SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili might not have many, or any more chances to play an NBA Finals game at AT&T Center, with age, nagging injuries and the rising young powers in the Western Conference making it more difficult for the trio to maintain the San Antonio Spurs’ incredible run of consistent excellence.
Parker denied that he was getting sentimental or thinking beyond Game 5, or this series, and since no road team had ever won the last two Finals games, the Spurs faced what Duncan declared was a “must-win” situation in their final home game of the season. But even with Parker dragging a bum right leg and Ginobili dealing with a bruised ego caused by his poor play, the Spurs responded with a determined performance to defeat the Miami Heat, 114-104, and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Experience plays a role,” Duncan said after remaining unbeaten in Game 5 of the Finals (4-0). “We’ve been in situations like this. We’ve been together for a long time. I think we’re just trying to do all we can to will it to happen.”
The Spurs have never trailed in five trips to the NBA Finals and now Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are one win from winning their fourth championship in 10 seasons together — and first since 2007. Parker scored 26 points, refusing to be held back by a strained right hamstring that he said could “tear any time now,” and heard chants of, “MVP! MVP.”
Ginobili had his best game of the series with 24 points and 10 assists and heard chants of “Manu! Manu! Manu!” And the understated Duncan had 17 points and 12 rebounds and needed no special recognition after his teammates won a game in which the Spurs never trailed.
The defending champion Heat now faces elimination for the second time this postseason and third time since Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh came together. Miami survived both instances in the conference finals, defeating Boston and Indiana in seven games. But two years ago, the trio lost at home to Dallas in Game 6.
“We’re going to see if we’re a better team than we were our first season together,” James said after scoring 25 points on just 8-of-22 shooting.
The Heat has not won consecutive games since the second round of the playoffs, alternating wins and losses over its past 12 games, but has no choice but to win the last two if it wants to repeat. Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format, three of the past eight teams that went home trailing 3-2 have gone on to win the championship.
“You can’t win a game with a statistic,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You’ve got to win it on the court.”
In its previous game, the Heat showed how dangerous it can be when James, Wade and Bosh play well. After combining for 85 points in Game 4, the trio had 66 points on Sunday and didn’t get much help outside of Ray Allen, who came off the bench and scored a series-high 21 points.
Allen also had to watch as Spurs guard Danny Green smashed his record for three-pointers in the Finals. Green remained flammable from long distance as he scored 24 points and made six three-pointers. Green has gone 25 of 38 from three-point range this series, surpassing Allen’s record of 22 three-pointers — set over six games in 2008 — with a three-pointer in the third quarter.
“You can’t stop everything,” Parker said. “They are still trapping me and doubling Timmy, and Danny is wide open. If you are going to leave Danny wide open, he’s going to make threes.”
The series that defied all notions of momentum and the only consistent theme since a close Game 1 has been lopsided results. Game 5 represented the fourth consecutive game decided by at least 10 points.
Ginobili had scored a total of 30 points through the first four games, and his struggles were so glaring that he admitted he has contemplated retirement. Ginobili no longer seemed capable of herky-jerky dribble drives, off-balanced floaters and leaners as he dealt with a hamstring injury that has slowed him down throughout the postseason.
Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich inserted his ace sixth man into the starting lineup, and the move quickly paid dividends as Ginobili made a three-pointer and nearly matched his scoring average for the series with seven points in the first quarter. The Argentine took over the game in the third period, scoring or assisting on nine points during a 12-1 flurry that turned a one-point game into an 87-75 lead that essentially knocked out the Heat.
Ginobili ended the period by staring down Heat reserve Norris Cole, driving around him and stepping back to hit a fadeaway shot off the glass to put the Spurs ahead, 87-75. Fans serenaded Ginobili as the team headed to the bench.
“I needed it,” Ginobili said of the chants. “I was having a tough time scoring, and I needed to feel like the game was coming to me.”
With Ginobili taking on some of the playmaking responsibilities, Parker was able to focus on scoring and holding off any insurgence from the Heat. Parker said he didn’t have “enough juice” in his leg but still closed the half with a driving, reverse layup to give the Spurs a nine-point lead. And after Wade made a free throw to cut a 20-point deficit down to eight in the 1:37 remaining, Parker again put the game out of reach with a driving layup.
“You just go play Game 6. There is no magic to it,” Popovich said. “It’s basketball. It’s not complicated. Both teams will compete their fannies off. Players will play well or poorly. Coaches will try to help them as much as possible, and the best team will end up winning.”