SAN ANTONIO —
The Heat came out with ferocious desperation, but could not keep it going long enough to rescue their season.
The Spurs withstood Miami’s blitz at the start of the game to win 104-87 on Sunday and capture the trophy that was ripped from their hands by the Heat a year ago. San Antonio left them breathless and dismayed while winning the NBA Finals in five games.
LeBron James has referred to AT&T Center as “a place of horrors” in his career and can add another haunting image to the list: The Spurs celebrating their first title since 2007 and fifth in what has been a remarkable 16-year run. They ended Miami's quest for a third straight championship.
“They exposed us,” Chris Bosh said. “They picked us apart and made us question what we were doing. We were always behind, the whole time. They played faster, they played strong and they played tougher.
“They dominated us. It wasn’t even much of a series, not even close. It was an anticlimactic ending for our season. They played the best basketball I’ve ever seen.”
San Antonio’s 70-point advantage over the course of the series was the largest margin of victory in Finals history.
Sunday night, James led the Heat’s early charge with 17 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, but was unable to sustain it. He finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Despite a sore ankle, he played all but 14 seconds before coach Erik Spoelstra pulled him with 6:30 left in the face of an 18-point deficit.
When he was done congratulating the Spurs on their conquest, James walked off the floor toward the locker room by himself. He was relatively alone during the game, too. None of his teammates managed more than 13 points and collectively they shot 37 percent.
Dwyane Wade? He did not reach double figures in scoring until the fourth quarter and turned in 11 points. His answer for that performance was, “Just struggled a little bit.”
Bosh? He started 2-for-6 from the field and would up with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Newly installed starter Ray Allen? Five points and four turnovers.
The closest the Heat came in the fourth quarter was 14 points with 9:57 remaining, but the Spurs needed less than two minutes to push their lead back to 19.
After San Antonio hammered them by a total of 40 points in Games 3 and 4, the Heat did everything they could think of to avoid another blowout. Spoelstra finally dropped the struggling Mario Chalmers from the starting lineup and went with Allen instead as Miami began the game without a point guard.
The Heat scored eight straight points to open the night, building a bigger lead than they had in any of the prior games, and jumped on San Antonio 22-6 in the first seven minutes. Everything looked right for them as they fought to force the series back to Miami for a Game 6.
The Spurs quickly extinguished that thought. They had the deficit down to seven by the end of the quarter and went ahead 37-35 on Kawhi Leonard’s 3-pointer with 4:47 left in the second quarter.
Leonard put together 22 points and 10 rebounds to secure Finals MVP. He rallied from a lackluster start — nine points in each of the first two games — to average 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 61.2 percent.
Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills came off the bench to give the Spurs 19 and 17 points, respectively.
“They were the much better team,” James said. “That’s how team basketball should be played.”
San Antonio had its lead up to 47-40 at halftime and completed its upheaval by going ahead by 21 points with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Spoelstra, who hit the jackpot on almost every move he made in the first three rounds of the playoffs, was out of options Sunday. He played little-used back-ups Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem early in the game and it did not matter. He even turned to Michael Beasley after keeping him inactive the first for games.
The victory gained the Spurs their long-awaited revenge. They were up 3-2 on Miami in last year’s Finals and led by five with 21 seconds left in Game 6 before Allen hit a late 3-pointer, and the Heat won in overtime. Miami took the next game, too, for its second consecutive championship.
This defeat sent the Heat into a summer of uncertainty after going to four straight Finals and winning twice since assembling the Big Three four years ago. James, Wade and Bosh have until June 30 to decide whether they want to opt out of their contracts. If they hit free agency, which starts July 1, they choose between signing new deals in Miami or looking elsewhere.
The rest of the roster is up for overhaul. Norris Cole is the only player locked up for next season. Battier played the final game of his 13-year career and will join ESPN’s college basketball coverage.
As for the core, two pieces probably are intact. Bosh said last month he will return, and Wade seems unlikely to ditch the franchise that drafted him 11 years ago.
The question mark is James, who said in February he could not picture himself leaving Miami, but declined to address his future after the game.