SAN ANTONIO — The last time Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili failed to show up for a game in Miami, they had the blessing of San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who ordered them to book a one-way Southwest flight home from Orlando to get some rest at the end of a six-game road trip in late November. NBA Commissioner David Stern punished the Spurs with a hefty $250,000 fine that proved to be money well spent when the team made the NBA Finals for the first time in six years.
The collective disappearance of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili on Sunday in Game 2 of the Finals — which came on the heels of San Antonio’s impressive Game 1 win — was much more inexplicable and disconcerting.
With the help of his less-heralded helpers, LeBron James punished the Spurs on Sunday and led the Heat to a 103-84 victory that had Duncan, Parker and Ginobili flummoxed as they watched the final minutes of the meltdown on the bench and changed the tenor of the best-of-seven series.
“If you look at the result, being 1-1, it’s not bad,” Ginobili said. “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.”
The Spurs have held James to just 35 points in the first two games and have avoided an ambush from either Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, so San Antonio is hardly panicking as the series shifts to AT&T Center in San Antonio for the next three games. But they also don’t have much room to feel comfortable against the defending champion Heat, which showed during an incredible 33-5 second-half run in Game 2 that it has an extra gear that few, if any, teams can match.
“Obviously, we were glad to win a game here,” Duncan said. “Our goal was to get two. We have three at home and we’re excited about that, but if we play like we did [in Game 2], that’s not going to matter.”
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio’s second-year forward, had a game-high 14 rebounds and clamped down on James much of the night, and Danny Green, a former journeyman also making his first Finals appearance, set a Finals record by making all five of his three-point attempts to finish with a team-high 17 points for San Antonio. But those efforts were wasted as Duncan had his worst performance in 24 Finals games, Parker couldn’t drive or pass through Miami’s aggressive, trapping defense and Ginobili was a whirling, tripping turnover machine.
Second only to the trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper with 99 postseason victories, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been through almost every experience over the past 10 seasons together — except what they encountered in Game 2 when the Spurs’ trio combined to go just 10 of 33 from the field for just 27 points and nine turnovers.
“No matter how you slice it, it’s 10 for 33,” Popovich said when asked about the poor showing of his three most accomplished players. “Not shooting well and turning it over is a bad combination.”
The Spurs can win with one or possibly two of its three stars struggling — which has been the case for much of the postseason as Ginobili combats a hamstring injury and declining skills at age 35 — but when all three are misfiring on passes and shots, the odds diminish even more.
“We have basically no shot winning a game against them if none of us played good,” Ginobili said. “So we definitely got to step up and do better.”
The Spurs’ trio outscored Miami’s trio, 54-48, in Game 1. James, Wade and Bosh had just 39 points in Game 2.
Duncan said he “played awfully” after missing 10 of 13 shots and posting his first single-digit scoring outing in the Finals with nine points. Heat forward Udonis Haslem has forced the 37-year-old Duncan to work harder than he’d like in the low block and Duncan was also unable to convert mid-range jumpers. And while James’s thunderous block on Tiago Splitter has been replayed on a seemingly endless loop, his first-quarter rejection of a Duncan jump hook near the basket seemed to encapsulate his evening.
“I’m getting the shots I want,” said Duncan, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1. “I just have to knock them down.”
The Heat blitzed Parker on the pick-and-roll and effectively disrupted the Spurs’ offense. Parker committed five of the Spurs’ 17 turnovers after not having any in Game 1, when even his most careless dribbling display was rewarded with an unbelievable bank shot with James defending in the final seconds.
And though he has been the best point guard throughout the playoffs, Parker was upstaged by his fiesty Miami counterpart, Mario Chalmers, who scored a game-high 19 points.
Ginobili remains in a postseason funk and contributed just five points with three turnovers in less than 18 minutes. He was also on the wrong end of an angry Duncan glare in the third quarter, when he cut to the basket as Duncan tried to hit him in the corner, resulting in a turnover.
The Spurs are 6-1 at home this postseason, but needed Duncan to carry them in an overtime win over Memphis in their previous game at AT&T Center. They will probably need at least two, or three, of their stars to get past a superior Heat team.
“We’re playing the defending champs,” Parker said. “Definitely have to play better. It’s always easy to bounce back after a loss, and now it’s our turn to handle our loss and see how we’re going to respond.”