Miami Heat Back in San Antonio, with Finals Struggles Seeming 'A Long Time Ago'

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterMarch 6, 2014

Lynne Sladky/AP Images

SAN ANTONIO—The honking wasn't heard Wednesday night.

These days, that's merely a memory in the city known for its lasting recollections—a memory nearly nine months old of vehicles circling the streets surrounding the Alamo, passengers waving flags, drivers honking horns.

There was certainly reason to celebrate on June 16, 2013.

The Spurs had just handled the Miami Heat in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals. They had done so by baiting LeBron James into missing 14 of 22 shots. They had done so with balanced offense, five starters scoring at least 16 points, three with at least 24. They had done so in convincing enough style that it appeared Danny Green would be the Finals MVP and they would cement themselves as the team of this era, with a fifth championship since Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan came together.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

They seemed likely to close it out in Miami, and start planning a parade on these very same streets.

The parade, as it turned out, would occur elsewhere.

Thursday, the Miami Heat return to San Antonio for the first time since they stole Game 6 and pulled away in Game 7 to win their second straight NBA championship. They return as contenders for another crown, but the hosts hold that status too, with each team sitting in second place in its respective conference.

"It was a long time ago, man," Chris Bosh said of the Finals. "It seems like a long time ago, a lot's happened. I think it's still fresh in everybody's mind. But you know what, that's what elite level basketball's about, facing situations that you don't want to be in, and having to capitalize, come through, and do whatever you have to do to make it happen."

Both teams are still making things happen.

Miami is 43-15, even with Dwyane Wade sitting for 16 games, and even with the rest of the team generally pulling back into second gear against the NBA's second tier.

San Antonio, more remarkably, is 44-16, in spite of a injury-riddled stretch when they were shorter on wings than a sports bar after Monday Night Football.

And so, here we are again.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

With so much less at stake...for now.

And while the Pacers, Thunder, Clippers and perhaps even the Rockets could stake a claim to supremacy in the spring, it should surprise no one if these two squads square off again for rings. And that would be a rather appropriate encore, after they played one of the odder, and closer, series in NBA Finals history, with three tight games, four blowouts, and the Spurs actually outscoring the Heat overall, if only by a 97.7 to 97.0 average.

All that ultimately mattered, of course, was 4-3 in Miami's favor.

And yet, after Game 5, that outcome seemed unlikely.

"That series was out of control," Bosh said. "Nobody had an upper hand on that series until the last minute of Game 7. It was very stressful. It was very, very stressful. I was glad it was over as soon as it was."

After Game 5, however, the Heat weren't ready for anything to end. The series' middle three games, all in San Antonio, had defied logic: San Antonio won by 36, Miami won by 16, and San Antonio won by 10, though that last margin was misleading—the Spurs led by 13 after one and never looked back.

After it was over, the Heat tried not to look back either.

The flight?

Udonis Haslem said, while "we never felt we had it under control," the Heat "liked our chances going home. No matter what the series is, a chance to finish out any series at home, we love our chances. Obviously our backs were against the wall, but if we could pick any situation, that's the one we'd pick."

As Bosh put it, "You're at a point where you know what has to happen."

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Even so, there was so much that needed to happen in Miami for the Heat to successfully defend their title. That included the Bosh rebound and Ray Allen three-pointer to tie Game 6. That included the Mario Chalmers three-pointer to close the third quarter, and then the strong finish to secure the championship in Game 7.

If Miami hadn't pulled it off, much likely would be different today. Pat Riley has acknowledged that, if the team had come up short, he might have tinkered with the roster significantly more than he did, which might have even meant trading Bosh. The Spurs? Well, there would have been more dynasty talk, considering this would have been a fifth championship since 1999.

What happened after the Heat left San Antonio will remain part of NBA lore, so long as the league exists. Allen, for instance, always would have had a place in history, due to his career record for three-pointers. But, even for all his late-game heroics, he didn't have a signature moment until he sank that shot from the corner in Game 6. He has spoken of using that moment as a touchstone to talk about his career, an example of his preparation paying off.

Over the summer, Allen received congratulations from all corners of the country.

But did he hear from anyone in San Antonio?

"Why would you ask that?" Allen said, smiling. "No. No. I would think I would have expected to either."

What does he expect Thursday night, when he enters the game as a sub, the shooter that broke a city's heart?

"I mean, I don't know," Allen said. "It will be interesting. I know we are the villain obviously in any building we go to. But I do have to say that the time we spent in San Antonio, the people there, as much as they wanted their team to win, they were real gracious hosts. There wasn't a lot of hatred and violence spewed when we were walking the streets. They were very kind-hearted and good and they appreciated the competition. So I always appreciated playing there."

Even if Game 5 didn't feel so good.

Allen scored 21 that night to lead a rally that fell well short. The Heat loss led to all that honking, before the team headed into the sky, to the East, out of state, into the prospect of two elimination games.

"I actually didn't look ahead and worry about it," Allen said. "It was my third Finals, so I really didn't place any worry and nervousness on the situation. Because it was like, you got to get to a point where a team has to really beat you on (your) floor. I just said, 'You get home and you take care of business. This is a situation not to panic.'"

He did everything but—and especially when it mattered most, legacies on the line, his feet just behind it.

In the end, he and the Heat narrowly avoided the heartache he experienced in 2010 as a member of the Celtics.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

"That situation, when you lose Game 7, that was probably one of the most gut-wrenching feelings that I've ever had in my career," Allen said. "I was in a hotel in L.A. We left the next morning. I think I watched five movies that night. I went to bed at like eight in the morning. Couldn't sleep. That's why I started wearing this elbow pad. I probably should have had my elbow checked out but it split, and I hit the ground and I was bleeding, and my bed was bloody. I was just in misery. Even throughout the summer, you don't forget it. So I wouldn't imagine they felt any different."

No, the Spurs didn't.

Neither did their fans.

Which is why a win Thursday over Miami would mean more than most.

Even if you still may not hear any honking.


Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.


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