Manu Ginobili exploding past one defender and dunking over two other Heat players? Tiago Splitter meeting Dwyane Wade at the rim and turning away his dunk attempt to the delight of the home crowd?
Hard to believe any of this happened, right?
How could the loaded, athletic two-time champion Heat be so completely, utterly dismantled by a team with a 38-year-old center, an overweight point forward and a shooting guard with a bald spot?
And how could that happen, as LeBron James would say in, “not one, not two, not three ” but four games in a series so lopsided the Heat should be thankful those consecutive missed San Antonio free throws in Game 2 separated them from a sweep.
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These NBA Finals, over now that San Antonio delivered a 104-87 exclamation point Sunday night, was a revelation on many levels.
First, the Spurs are simply a better team.
“They played exquisite basketball, and they’re the better team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “No other way to say it.”
Well there are other ways because there are other things. This series strongly suggests — if not outright proves — Miami’s formula for winning titles worked quite well for the past two years and even made the Heat relevant for four consecutive years, but that same formula is aging poorly.
We know that if the Heat is going to continue relying on the Big 3, Chris Bosh needs to actually live up to being part of the group, and Wade needs to somehow find himself again because the guy we saw in these Finals was merely a Wade shadow.
We know that the Heat have one amazing player in James and 14 other role players — none of whom is on the ascent.
“Look, you really have to credit San Antonio and their defense,” Spoelstra said. “It wasn’t Dwyane. It was pretty much everybody except for LeBron. We never got our rhythm.”
We know now if the Heat is going to come back better in 2015, it has to, well, get better. This roster isn’t going to do it.
This roster, good enough to get the Heat here out of the weakened Eastern Conference, isn’t championship caliber.
Don’t believe it?
Consider that Spoelstra came into this game trying to pull multiple magic rabbits out of his hat.
Trick one was hoping Udonis Haslem could play the character card and will the Heat to victory. Well, Tim Duncan ate up Haslem on three consecutive trips in the third quarter.
Trick two involved having Michael Beasley active.
Trick three was benching Mario Chalmers and not even letting him be the first point guard off the bench. Chalmers, in a terrible playoffs funk, played himself out of the lineup and perhaps out of Miami.
The Heat was grasping but could offer no real answers.
Time to rebuild, Pat Riley.
Down 98-80 with 3:13 to play, Wade, James and Bosh left this game for good. It was a white flag for a game long over.
It was also a sign the Heat has been exposed.
Players on this team spent the days, hours, and minutes leading up to this game making bold statements about what was to come. They promised things for this night they’d failed to deliver in three previous games.
Bosh predicted the team would win. Wade promised a different approach to his game. Spoelstra offered Spoisms about how wonderful it is to test one’s character.
“I love being in the trenches with this group when they’re in situations like this. You reveal your character,” Spoelstra said. “You reveal what you’re made out of when you’re facing adversity.
“Everybody can be in the situation that the Spurs are in right now. It’s much more revealing when you’re in a situation like this. I love being with those guys in these situations.”
James looked around a huddle of those guys just before they took the court and implored them to “follow my lead.”
And then James delivered a stellar first quarter in which he scored 17 points, snatched six rebounds and blocked two shots. But at the end of that quarter James must have felt like John Belushi in Animal House after delivering the “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” speech to his frat brothers.
No one followed.
No one seemed capable.
James finished with 31 points. The rest of the starting lineup had 32 points.
The Heat opened with a stirring 8-0 run. It included an emphatic put-back dunk by James. It forced San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to call timeout.
And while the Spurs took five minutes to score their first field goal of the game the Heat built a 16-point lead, their largest of the series.
But that was all. It was all a mirage. It was unsustainable.
Wade had only two points in the opening quarter and finished with only 11. The block by Splitter, who last year was abused around the rim by the Heat, was a sign.
It showed Wade’s diminished hops. It showed Flash has long since passed into memory, and Wade has to find other ways to not only compete but succeed at a championship level.
Then came those consecutive possessions in which Ginobili drove to the basket past one defender and dunked — dunked! — over two other Heat players. And seconds later when Ginobili connected on a three-point shot taken from Buenos Aires.
Yes, the Heat was in trouble. The game hadn’t reached halftime and Miami’s lone run had already come and gone.
Kind of like the time for this roster has come and gone.