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Momentum proving elusive as Finals move to San Antonio

Photo: Greg Nelson/SI

Though he missed 10 of 13 shots, Tim Duncan was happy with his chances in the Spurs' Game 2 loss.

SAN ANTONIO -- The Heat are still in trouble and yet at the same time they look as if they're in command. The Spurs understand that paradox innately.

"We have three [games] at home, so we're excited about that," Tim Duncan said an hour after his Spurs' humbling 103-84 loss in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. "But if we play like we did tonight, that's not going to matter"

The Spurs will be approaching Game 3 here Tuesday from perspectives of strength and weakness. In their favor is the home-court advantage they seized with their efficient win in Game 1, which has given them a chance to finish off the series with three straight wins at home (a far-fetched hope for sure). But the advantage they earned in the opener was offset by their loss Sunday, especially by the 38-9 trampling they absorbed across the third and fourth quarters.

"After having played a great Game 1, you don't want to come back and feel like this and perform like this," said Manu Ginobili, who was 2-for-6 with three turnovers. "In the second half they just ran us over. We didn't move the ball at all. Their pressure really got us on our heels. And offensively they just ran, they penetrated, they kicked it, they did everything they wanted.

"If you look at the result, being 1‑1, it's not bad. But you don't want to play like this in an NBA Finals. You don't want to give them that much confidence and you feeling bad about yourself."

Did the Heat establish an edge that will carry them through the rest of the Finals? The Spurs have been on the wrong end of these kinds of runs before -- most recently when the Thunder overcame an 0-2 deficit to run off four straight wins in the conference finals last year. In this case, however, San Antonio could draw unlikely hope from the 10-for-33 performance of their Big Three of Tony Parker, Duncan and Ginobili.

"I look at my shots and they are shots I want," said Duncan, who was 3-for-13 for his nine points. "They're contested shots, but they're the shots I feel I can make. I'm going to get back in the gym and hopefully come out with a better stroke. But I'm getting the shots I want. I just have to knock them down."

Two changes have to be made by the Spurs and they couldn't be more obvious. Their stars must shoot a better percentage, and they must cut back on the 17 turnovers they committed in Game 2. Putting the ball in the basket and keeping Miami out of transition is going to be San Antonio's best defensive tactic. "Not shooting well and turning it over is a bad combination," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Parker's five turnovers in Game 2 alone were more than his entire team surrendered in their series-opening win. "I've said if we can keep our turnovers under 10, it would be better against that team," he said. "Because every time you have turnovers, it's a quick fast break."

The difference between Games 1 and 2 for Miami had everything to do with those turnovers. While the Heat looked tired in the fourth quarter of the opener, that had more to do with being discouraged by the failure of their defense to create easy shots. For all of their offensive star-power, it's their defense that provides their identity.

Once Miami attacked in the open floor, it didn't matter who was finishing the opportunities -- five Miami players scored in double-figures and none more than Mario Chalmers's 19 points. "I just try to make the most of my opportunities," Chalmers said. "You always hear how hard it is to get to the Finals. Once you get there, you want to leave it out on the court and never have no look‑backs."

GMs talk about searching for players who can raise their level of play in the postseason and the Finals have reached the stage when such energy will be decisive. The Heat exploded in the second half of Game 2. Now they have to maintain that highest gear. And the Spurs have to match it.

Chalmers isn't the most important player in the series, but he embodies the most important characteristic. "He's got guts," Spoelstra said of Chalmers, who helped lead Kansas to the 2007-08 national championship. "He had that all the way in college. He's got incredible confidence in his game. He's shown that throughout the years, even when it's sometimes -- I wouldn't say irrational -- you have to have guts to play with our guys. If you don't, you get swallowed up.

"Small things will make a major thing in this series, because talent level is pretty equivalent. And so it's going to be loose balls, rebounds, execution, guys coming in with confidence, being aggressive, that type of thing."

That type of thing defines both teams. The Spurs must win at least two of the next three games at home. But more importantly they must prevent Miami from building on the gains established in Game 2.

"It's always easy to bounce back after a loss," Parker said. "Now it's our turn to see how we're going to handle our loss and how we're going to respond."

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