LeBron James, Heat face elimination after Spurs 'snowball' to Game 5 win
SAN ANTONIO -- LeBron James technically stopped short of guaranteeing a victory, but his framing of Game 5 carried an implication that exceeded mere self-confidence: The 2013 Finals belong to the Heat, he seemed to say, and a decisive victory Sunday would be had because he was going to put his foot down.
"I think it's time," James said Saturday, one day before the Spurs defeated the Heat 114-104 to take a 3-2 series lead. "I think we're well overdue when it's time for us to win consecutive games. ... I think it's time. Enough is enough for our team."
Enough wasn't quite enough, not yet, as this matchup continues to prove that there is no simple switch for Miami to turn on and off at a whim. James had tried to draw a line in the sand, and Danny Green, the red-hot Spurs sharpshooter, responded by toeing the line and letting fly three after three. He didn't stop until a Finals record was secured, until the Heat alternated wins and losses for the 12th straight game and until the Spurs were heading for South Beach armed with two chances to close out the fifth title of the Gregg Popovich era.
Green, who finished with 24 points and hit six three-pointers, didn't stop until James was sitting at a postgame press conference, deferring questions to Dwyane Wade and looking despondent. He was forced to concede that perhaps this series wasn't entirely under his control, after all.
"If I knew the answer, we would have won two games in a row," James said when asked why his "enough is enough" proclamation had fallen flat. "We just haven't been able to do it."
It wasn't much of an answer. After Miami's Game 3 blowout loss, James made a point of falling on his sword, taking full responsibility for a quiet night that saw him miss jumpers and pass up opportunities to attack the hoop. His tone Sunday was more regretful than frustrated, perhaps because his performance was lacking mostly in good fortune rather than assertiveness.
Yes, James went roughly 20 minutes in the second half without a field goal, but his shot chart confirms that he wasn't settling or wandering around the perimeter this time. He finished with 25 points on 8-of-22 shooting and 7-of-9 from the line, adding eight assists, six rebounds and four steals. His nine free-throw attempts more than doubled his previous high in the Finals, a telltale sign that he was in "go" mode. While his jumper deserted him again, as he hit just 2-of-7 from outside the paint, he had a much more pressing concern: The 2013 MVP, who, according to NBA.com, shot 70.4 percent in the paint this season, hit just 6-of-15 (40 percent) from that area during Game 5, including a number of missed shots at the rim in transition situations.
"That's where it starts for us, honestly," James said. "I think between the two of us [James and Wade], we probably missed 12 layups tonight. Transition layups that we usually convert. I missed a lob. I missed two layups on the same possession. ... Those are shots we make. And maybe it would be a different turnout at that point."
Maybe, but probably not. The Spurs took a commanding lead in the first quarter and then put the game into a comfort zone with a 19-1 second-half run that was a thing of beauty. Kicked off by yet another Green three with a little less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter, a slump-busting Manu Ginobili picked up the ball and ran with it, scoring seven points to close the quarter and threading the needle on a beautiful pass to Tiago Splitter for a dunk.
As James missed jumpers and layups -- he would fail to connect on eight straight second-half attempts -- the Spurs' onslaught continued. Ginobili scored again, Kawhi Leonard hit a three and Tim Duncan found a putback bucket. All of a sudden, a 75-74 Spurs lead had ballooned to a 94-75 margin in less than six minutes.
"We had weathered the storms, and when we got [the deficit] to one, we thought we were in a decision position on the road," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "But it snowballed."
This San Antonio group -- tested and connected telepathically -- can snowball at a moment's notice and from all directions. Their Game 5 attack was balanced, at least among the starters, as Ginobili's unannounced inclusion in the starting lineup made the Spurs unusually top-heavy. San Antonio's first five scored 107 of the team's 114 points, with Ginobili pouring in a season-high 24 to go with 10 assists, and Tony Parker, who played his most commanding game of the series, tallying a game-high 26 points and five assists. That, plus Green's third detonation in five games, was more than enough to overcome 66 combined points from Miami's Big Three and 21 points off the bench from Ray Allen.
With each big San Antonio run, and with each convincing San Antonio victory, the window tightens for James and Miami. Inexplicably, the Heat have struggled to produce consistent defensive effort in this series. Surprisingly, the Spurs' rotating cast of defensive characters -- Boris Diaw got a chance Sunday -- has found a way to throw off James just enough to swing things in their favor. On multiple occasions, Miami's dry stretches on offense have turned into crippling San Antonio runs.
Now, facing elimination head-on, the puffy-chested confidence that produced "enough is enough" has given way to a zoomed-in, realistic assessment.
"We can't worry about a Game 7," James said, alluding to the possibility of a failed championship quest. "We have to worry about Game 6."
Where he had once looked to put his foot down, James now seemed to be treading lightly. Where he once planned to impose his will to capture a title, James now hedged back toward safer ground, making it clear he wasn't going to get ahead of himself again.
And, where he once welcomed all of the pressure on his shoulders, James called for reinforcements.
"I have to come up big for sure in Game 6," James said. "But I believe we all have to play at a high level in order to keep the series going."
Perhaps it was San Antonio's balance that kept James from repeating his solo act, or perhaps it was the memory of the Big Three's joint success in Game 4. Either way, he wasn't about to make a promise that he couldn't keep, or hint at a guarantee that might come back to bite him.