MIAMI — LeBron James was grimacing, apparently feeling the effects of a stomach bug. But the overall play of the Heat may have been even more sickening.
The San Antonio Spurs embarrassed Miami at home for the second straight game and took a stranglehold on the NBA Finals with a 107-86 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night. The Spurs lead the two-time champs 3-1 and can capture the fifth NBA title in franchise history Sunday night in San Antonio.
The Spurs played their usual brilliant, unselfish game and the Heat didn’t do anything to stop it — again. Miami appeared slow and sapped of energy, which was both surprising and inexcusable, given what was at stake.
As badly as they played, Miami’s body language was worse. The Heat looked as if it was beaten after every extra Spurs pass led to a score — and there were plenty of those. The Spurs racked up 25 assists on 40 field goals and shot 57.1 percent from the field. They won the two games here by a total of 40 points.
“I’m pleased that they performed as well as they did while we were in Miami,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Now we got to go back home and play as well or better.”
Kawhi Leonard had another strong game with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Tony Parker added 19 for the Spurs, who led by 25 and were up by double figures for the final 30:09. Patty Mills hit 4 of 6 three-pointers and had 14 points off the bench.
Despite what ailed him, James shot 10-for-17 and scored 28 points, but he got little help. The other four Heat starters totaled 28 points. Dwyane Wade looked as if he had no lift in his legs and shot 3-for-13 with 10 points.
Chris Bosh called Game 4 “a must win” for obvious reasons. The Spurs had a similar approach but for different reasons, and they played with more fire and urgency.
San Antonio let leads of 2-1 and 3-2 in last year’s Finals slip away. The Spurs also gave up a lead and the championship in the closing seconds of Game 6 last June. They lost that game in overtime and then dropped Game 7, and the Spurs have been on a mission ever since.
The Spurs had the best record in the NBA this season, dispatched some heady competition in the Western Conference playoffs and now are close to ending the Heat’s reign.
You can’t help but marvel that the Spurs grew a dynastic team organically, particularly in this day and age in which superstars decide to join forces. The Heat did it with James, Wade and Bosh and lately there have been reports of adding a fourth in Miami in Carmelo Anthony.
But the Spurs are proving that playing team ball and executing efficiently on both ends sometimes is better than having more stars or sexier names.
After the Spurs shot an NBA-record 75.8 percent from the field in the first half of Game 3, Popovich said they wouldn’t shoot that well again. They hit (begin italics) only (end italics) 55.6 percent in the first half this time and led 55-36.
It was another first-half clinic. The Spurs moved the ball, got everyone involved and picked apart the flat-footed and lethargic Heat. Miami didn’t have it on either end. The Heat was 12-for-34 from the field and missed 11 of 15 shots in the paint. Wade was a big culprit, going 1-for-7 in the first half.
James tried to lead Miami back in the third. After a nine-point first half, he scored 10 of the Heat’s first 12 points as Miami cut it to 61-48 with 7:56 left. The Spurs answered with a 12-1 run and opened a 73-49 cushion with 3:49 left.
James had 19 of Miami’s 21 third-quarter points. The Spurs maintained a 24-point lead at 81-57 heading into the fourth.