MIAMI — The San Antonio Spurs have returned to the scene of their self-inflicted crime twice since the phrases “Game 6” and “28.2 seconds” became regrettable parts of their history.
They came to AmericanAirlines Arena in October for an exhibition against the Miami Heat in which the Spurs’ starters played sparingly and they were blown out. They revisited in late January and lost again, dropping a game that actually counted.
It would be completely understandable if the Spurs continued to struggle here for the foreseeable future, so deep were the wounds left by what happened in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals last year.
The Spurs lost a five-point lead in the final 28.2 seconds of Game 6 amid a tragicomedy of errors and couldn’t recover two days later in Game 7, forward Tim Duncan memorably missing a close-range shot he said he probably could have made with his eyes closed.
That left the Spurs to dust the confetti off their shoulders while the Heat hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy for a second consecutive year.
The Spurs are back for Game 3 of the Finals on Tuesday, intent on forgetting as much as they can about the last time they were here on this stage.
“For me personally, I’m definitely not going to think about that the next two games,” San Antonio guard Tony Parker said after the Spurs fell, 98-96, in Game 2 on Sunday night. “I’m going to focus on what I can do to help the team win. Going to be big games coming up.”
The Heat and Spurs are in a similar spot to where they were last year, the series tied after two games. The difference is that the next two games will be in Miami as part of the new 2-2-1-1-1 series format instead of in San Antonio for three games as part of the old 2-3-2 alignment that ended last year.
It seemed pretty clear what fixes the Spurs needed to make after another unhappy ending doomed them in Game 2. They led by a point after Parker made a three-pointer with 2:26 remaining before their final four possessions went like this: missed Manu Ginobili three-pointer, Ginobili turnover, Ginobili missed jumper and meaningless Ginobili three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.
San Antonio’s demise was not solely a one-man operation, though.
The Spurs missed eight of 20 free throws in the game, including four in a row in the fourth quarter. They continued to receive virtually nothing from forward Kawhi Leonard, who has scored in single digits in each of the series’ first two games. Their trademark ball movement also hit a snag for long stretches in Game 2.
“It’s a 48-minute game and we didn’t move it enough of those minutes, basically,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said after Game 2. “It’s how we have to score. We can’t put it in somebody’s hands and have them create everything for us. It’s got to be a group effort and we didn’t do that.
“That puts a lot of pressure on everything else. It means we’re going to have to be perfect on defense, we can’t miss four free throws in a row, those sorts of things. You move it or you die.”
The Spurs scored one small victory Monday when Miami’s Dwyane Wade received a $5,000 fine for flopping in Game 2 when he embellished his reaction to a foul called on a swipe made by Ginobili in the second quarter.
Players were not made available for interviews as part of a mandated travel day, probably a good thing for the Spurs who wanted no further reminders of what happened here a year ago.
“Definitely, it’s going to be a great challenge for the team to play in an arena like that and having to win,” Ginobili said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
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