Has playing with fire caught up to Heat?

Reflects on loss

SAN ANTONIO

  Because it always has to be the hard way. It's as if these Miami Heat know no other way.

  In Tuesday night's 113-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the NBA Finals it meant LeBron James pounding the scorers' table in the second quarter as he fell to 2 of 8 from the field, on the way to 2 of 13. It was Erik Spoelstra shoving Mike Miller to the scorers' table after a mindless Dwyane Wade turnover early in the third. It was Mario Chalmers getting back to doing Wario Chalmers things.

  This is not the Heat going against glad-to-be-here Oklahoma City, like last season's Finals, when Thunder coach Scott Brooks' best moment came in his Game 5 concession speech to his players.

  This is the talent of the San Antonio Spurs, the madness of coach Gregg Popovich throwing a web of defense around LeBron and daring anyone else to beat him.

   This now is trying to come back from the worst playoff loss in franchise history, the third-worst loss in NBA Finals history, the worst of any loss in the Heat's Big Three era.

  "Well, we got what we deserved tonight," Spoelstra said. "We never got to our game."

  Not only isn't this the Thunder the Heat are up against, it isn't even the Indiana Pacers, whom the Heat escaped in seven games the previous round.

  "We were playing from behind virtually from the start," Spoelstra said.

  For every botched possession, for every missed rotation, the Spurs made them pay Tuesday, championship-tested, fueled by the 2-3-2 format that could have them in position to close this out on their floor on Sunday night.

   "They played with more force, more focus," Spoelstra said.

  Odds are, the Heat will look far different in Thursday's Game 4, because that's who they are, who they have been. Odds are every Chris Bosh blocked shot won't turn into a Danny Green 3-pointer.

   But it's a game that's getting somewhat old and getting somewhat dangerous.

   "The only thing that matters," Spoelstra said, "is we're down 2-1 and we did not bring anywhere near our best game tonight.

   "I did not recognize the team that was out there."

   Yes, there have not been consecutive losses since Jan. 8 and Jan. 10.

   We get that. But even that might not be enough.

   Because there don't have to be consecutive losses for this series to end in the Spurs' favor, such the price of the Heat's Game 1 loss at AmericanAirlines Arena.

   Earlier in the day, Wade was on ESPN, explaining how the Heat are at their best when faced with adversity. It was his reasoning on how what looked so bad in Game 1 of these NBA Finals could have looked so good in Game 2.

   Tuesday, of course, the Heat weren't playing at a deficit, at least at the outset, with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1 entering the night.

   Then, right on schedule, adversity arrived. Bosh missed four of his first five shots, LeBron missed five of his first six.

   Yes, there were comebacks. At least until 44-44. Then it fell apart. Totally. Amid a barrage of Spurs 3-pointers, their 16 the most in Finals history.

   During last season's playoffs, there was something charming about Team Adversity, as LeBron went for his first championship.

    It is what offered encouragement when the Heat lost the opener of this season's Eastern Conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls, as well as when it was 1-1, 2-2 and then 3-3 against the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.

    But now the script has been flipped.

   After dropping their Finals opener a year ago against the Thunder, the Heat won the next four.

   That won't be happening this time.

   Now the question is whether the Heat can make it back to South Florida with a season still in progress.

   We've learned by now to never doubt LeBron. But what he is facing this series is something far more maniacal than what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has thrown at him in recent postseasons, more than the Pacers' Frank Vogel conjured in the previous round.

   "Honestly I just have to play better," LeBron said, not even requested at the podium after this one. "I can't have a performance like tonight and expect to win. I've got to shoot the ball better, make better decisions and I will get into the film and see ways that I can do that. I'm not putting blame on anybody. I'm owning everything that I did tonight."

   Even for Team Adversity, sometimes the adversity can grow too great.

   Either that, or the Game 2 Heat return in Thursday's Game 4. Because that's, maddeningly, what they have become.

   "It's just one win for them," LeBron summed up, just as the Heat have zeroed out everything else that has gone wrong this season up to this stage. "They played a great game and got everything that they wanted, but at the end of the day you only get one win, no matter how many points you are up. And we get another opportunity on Thursday."

    Requisite adversity fully in place.

    iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat


 

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