If LeBron James wants to hoist his second NBA Finals MVP award and Dwyane Wade his third Larry O’Brien trophy, if the Miami Heat want to win their second consecutive championship and see red and black confetti fall from the rafters of American Airlines Arena after Game 7 … well, if the Heat want all that to happen, they have to get to Game 7 first.
Frontrunners for the length of the season, the Heat now find themselves backed into a corner afterlosing Game 5 of the Finals 114-104 to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night. Down 3-2 in the series, the Heat must win Game 6 on Tuesday and force a decisive Game 7 on Thursday to extend their championship reign.
“We look forward to the challenge,” James said. “We’ve been here before. We’ve been on both sides of the fence. …We got an opportunity to do something special.”
The Heat were in this same predicament in 2011 when they returned to Miami down 3-2 in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. They believed their home court would provide the necessary spark for them to even the series. Instead, the night ended with them watching the Mavericks celebrate on their own floor.
“We’re in the same position going back home with Game 6 on our home floor,” Wade said. “So we’re going to see if we’re a better ball club and if we’re better prepared for this moment. Everything happens for a reason. And this is not a bad reason at all to go home for Game 6 on your home floor.”
The Heat have been pushed into this position again because the Spurs splintered their defense. Sparked by Manu Ginobili’s 24 points as a starter, the Spurs’ 114 points were the most scored against the Heat in the postseason.The second most? The 113 the Spurs scored in their Game 3 victory over the Heat.
The only other time Miami gave up 100 points or more in the playoffs came during a 103-102 overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.
“It was pretty obvious that we didn’t give the same defensive effort that we had in Game 4, and they picked us apart,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “We didn’t have the same effort from the get-go, and we waited until we were down double-digits to respond. And on the road we can’t do that. From here on out we can’t continue to shoot ourselves in the foot like that.”
After finishing with the NBA’s best record in the regular season to secure home-court advantage in the Finals, the Heat are glad for the opportunity to put it to use. If, at the start of the season, the Heat had been told they would need to win two consecutive home games to win the NBA title, James and Bosh both said they would have taken it.
Miami is 8-3 at home in the playoffs and hasn’t lost two games in a row all season. One of those three home losses came against the Spurs in the Finals opener. Since the Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985, the home team has rallied from 3-2 down to win Games 6 and 7 three times: the Los Angeles Lakers against the Detroit Pistons in 1988; the Houston Rockets against the New York Knicks in 1994; and the Lakers against the Boston Celtics in 2010.
“We’re in a situation where it’s a must-win, and everything that we’ve done all year comes to this point and we have to win,” said Heat guard Ray Allen, who was on the 2010 Boston Celtics team that lost Game 6 and 7 in L.A. to the Lakers. “We’ve found ourselves in so many situations this year and we’ve thrived in tough moments because this is a tough team. We will be ready for Game 6.”
Like James said, the Heat need “something special” – starting with him.
“I have to come up big, for sure in Game 6,” James said. “But I believe we all have to play at a high level in order to keep the series going. So me 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.”
Marc Spears covers the NBA for Yahoo! Sports. He previously has written for the Boston Globe and Denver Post. This article is reprinted here with the written permission of Yahoo!.