Eric Gay, AP
SAN ANTONIO — Until Tuesday night, the Miami Heat will be lamenting 8 bad minutes.
Eight very bad minutes, actually.
So bad that they took away any realistic chance of winning Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night. So bad that they put the reigning champions on the brink of elimination. So bad that they ensured the Heat season can only be saved by winning two games in Miami, or else they will face the indignity of watching an opponent celebrate a title on their floor for the second time in three years.
San Antonio closed the first quarter on a 15-2 run, then wrapped up the third with a 12-1 burst. And those flurries generated more than enough cushion than the Spurs would need on the way to a 114-104 win that put them one win away from their fifth championship since 1999.
"We haven't really gotten beaten like that in a long time," Heat guard Mario Chalmers said. "It just happened tonight, so something's got to change."
In those two bursts, the Spurs shot a combined 10 for 12. The Heat, 1 for 11.
More than anything else, those two stretches will be the ones that cause the Heat to cringe when they watch the tape Monday.
"We're going to have to look at it and we're going to have to answer that question," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "There's no doubt about it. ... Can we put together our best game on both sides of the floor in Game 6? We do feel good that we're going home, but we've got to earn back that home court."
Game 6 is in Miami on Tuesday. Game 7, if necessary, would also be there Thursday.
It was 17-17 with 4:45 left in the first after LeBron James it for Miami with a 3-pointer. Score at the end of the first: Spurs 32, Heat 19, and it wasn't just the ending that was bad for Miami. The Heat shot 30 percent in the period, their third-worst performance from the field of the entire season — while the Spurs sizzled away at 63 percent.
Slowly, things moved toward evening out. And an inspired start to the third by Miami cut what was a nine-point deficit at intermission to just 61-60 in the first 77 seconds of the second half. Then with 3:05 left in the third, a jumper by Dwyane Wade, followed by a free throw by Shane Battier on the same play (he was fouled while setting a screen) got the Heat within one again, 75-74.
That's when the bottom fell out — again.
"Once we got it back to one, we felt that we'd weathered the storm," Spoelstra said. "Then we missed a couple shots that we normally are accustomed to making, and it just snowballed downhill from there."
Danny Green made a 3-pointer to start the San Antonio surge to close the third, and Manu Ginobili scored seven more points before the end of the period to help push the Spurs' margin to 12 at 87-75 entering the fourth.
By then, the Spurs had more than enough space to weather Miami's last rally. The Heat cut it to 109-101 with just inside of 2 minutes to go, which surely made getting outscored by 24 combined points to end the first and third quarters hurt that much more.
After playing uphill basketball all night, the Heat didn't have enough left for a miracle comeback. And now, Miami's task is simple. Win Tuesday, then win Thursday — or else.
"Ain't got no choice, now," Heat guard Mike Miller said.
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