MIAMI — Thousands upon thousands of fans took to the San Antonio streets for more than two hours after Game 5 on Sunday, clogging downtown lanes, waving flags from truck beds, hanging out of car windows, honking horns unremittingly and screaming as if the championship had already been won.
Good thing Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t around to talk some sense into them.
The Spurs haven’t won a title since 2007, so forgive the locals for their premature celebration after San Antonio snatched a 3-2 lead over Miami in the NBA Finals.
Then again, the Heat didn’t offer many solutions after a 114-104 loss.
“If we make those mistakes (Tuesday) in Game 6, it will be the same result,” Dwyane Wade said, cringing at the many mental errors by the defending champions.
The Finals have shifted back to Miami for good, but the Heat hasn’t won two games in a row for more than a month.
Now would be a good time to start.
LeBron James doesn’t want to go 1-3 in career Finals appearances. He doesn’t want Tim Duncan to be the one enhancing a basketball legacy by taking a fifth NBA championship in five tries. James can’t fail again to live up to the massive, and mostly deserved, hype.
Or can he?
“Being one of the leaders of this team, I do put a lot of pressure on myself to force a Game 7, and I look forward to the challenge,” James said.
James wasn’t sharp in Game 5, making only eight of 22 shots for 25 points. His output was more than countered by the surprise re-emergence of Manu Ginobili, who had 24 points on eight-for-14 shooting as a starter after a dreadful four games as a reserve.
So far, the trend in this series is for the team that lost to come back and win. Good news for the Heat.
But another trend is for Spurs shooting guard Danny Green to make a stunning number of three-point shots. Not such good news for the Heat.
Green was the Spurs’ fifth-leading scorer in the regular season, shooting an admirable 43 percent from three-point range but averaging only 10.5 points.
He is averaging a team-high 18 points in the Finals while making an absurd 25 of 38 from three-point range (66 percent). Game 5 was no different, Green scoring 24 points and making six of 10 from behind the arc.
“That will be something that we have to correct,” Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s getting some open looks, and he’s making some contested looks, but the open looks are the ones that are killing us.”
Cut twice in earlier years by the Spurs before latching on for good this season, Green, who turns 26 on Saturday, appears to be for real. One more great game might net him a Finals MVP award. His 25 three-pointers are already a Finals record.
“When you do it for 82 games, the only thing left is to see if you do it when the real lights come on come playoffs time,” Popovich said. “He’s pretty well answered that question.”
The Spurs, though, shouldn’t start sizing fingers for a fifth championship ring since 1999.
San Antonio fell on its face after its first two victories in this series, surrendering a 33-5 run in Game 2 and losing at home by 16 in Game 4.
“That’s the one thing we want to clean up,” Duncan said. “I think every one of us wants this very badly from the top on down.”
The Spurs are 3-0 in close-out games this playoff season, all on the road.
“Obviously you want to finish in the first opportunity you get,” Tony Parker said. “We did that against the Lakers and Golden State and Memphis. So hopefully we can do the same thing.”
Then Spurs fans would really have something to celebrate. Downtown traffic controllers better prepare themselves.
TNT and NBA TV analyst Charles Barkley gave a thumbs-up to Popovich for starting Ginobili instead of erratic center Tiago Splitter. “If (the Heat) lose this series they will think, ‘When the Spurs went small, that’s when this series changed.’ Everybody on the Spurs is an offensive weapon,” Barkley said. Ginobili had not started a game all season….
Since the Finals moved to the 2-3-2 format in 1985, only three of eight teams have won after going home down 3-2 (the Lakers in 1988, Houston in 1994 and the Lakers in 2010)….Neither team practiced Monday, nor was available to the media, because of a designated travel day.