Coming home from Texas with their season on the line in 2011 was one thing. They were at the end of their first year together, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still trying to figure it all out.
But this season they were the NBA’s best team, one that lost three games in three months and made losing three times in one series look unlikely, if not downright unimaginable.
The San Antonio Spurs can finish Miami off tonight in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, reaffirming themselves as one of the league’s greatest franchises.
If so, the Heat’s Big Three once again go from celebrated to devastated.
“We’re going to see if we’re a better team than we were our first year together,” James said.
The Spurs took a 3-2 lead with their 114-104 victory Sunday night. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were all brilliant again, and Danny Green added to what could become one of the most out-of-nowhere finals MVP campaigns ever.
One more victory makes the Spurs 5-0 in the NBA Finals, keeping pace with Michael Jordan’s 6-0 Chicago Bulls as the only teams to reach the finals multiple times and never lose.
“We understand Game 6 is huge,” Parker said. “Obviously, you want to finish in the first opportunity you get. We understand that Miami is going to come out with a lot more energy, and they’re going to play better at home. They’re going to shoot the ball better. Their crowd is going to be behind them.”
None of that mattered two years ago. After dropping two in a row in Dallas, the Heat were blitzed early in Game 6 and never recovered.
“We challenge ourselves to see if we’re a better team than we were,” Wade said. “Same position no matter how we got to it.”
The Heat would also play host to Game 7 on Thursday. They’re trying to join the 1988 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers and 1994 Houston Rockets as the only teams to rally from 3-2 down by winning the final two on their home floor since the NBA Finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985.
Of course, the Heat – who won 27 in a row during the second-longest winning streak in league history – haven’t managed consecutive victories in close to a month.
“We’re in a position where it’s a must-win and everything that we’ve done all year comes to this point, and we have to win,” Heat guard Ray Allen said. “We’ve found ourselves in so many situations this year, and we’ve thrived in tough moments because this is a tough team.”
Their four titles have made the Spurs respected but never beloved. Their first, in 1999, came after a 50-game lockout season. Win this one, though, and they will surely get their due. They would be knocking off the league’s winningest team and the game’s best player.
Not that they’re thinking about that, or anything else beyond Game 6 at this point.
“We’ll reflect back and let it hit us when it’s over. We still have a lot more work to do,” Green said.
It looked as though the game was finally passing by the Spurs last year, when the young Oklahoma City Thunder blew by them with four straight victories after San Antonio had taken a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
The Heat routed the Thunder for the championship and the Spurs brought back essentially the same team, believing another year in their system for players like Green and Kawhi Leonard was a better option than seeking out some quick-fix outsider.
That’s almost always been the Spurs’ way, and it’s on the verge of again being the model for an NBA title — at the expense of the Miami one that once appeared to be the way champions would be built.
“I think every one of us wants this very badly from the top on down,” Duncan said. “We’re trying to play that way.”