SAN ANTONIO — Gregg Popovich matched the Miami Heat and went small. And his San Antonio Spurs came up big.
After Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had moved guard Mike Miller into the starting lineup in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Spurs coach counteracted by replacing center Tiago Splitter with guard Manu Ginobili in Sunday night’s Game 5 at the AT&T Center.
The move worked brilliantly. Ginobili, who had been slumping lately, had 24 points and 10 assists as the Spurs won 114-104 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. Game 6 is Tuesday in Miami.
Ginobili ignited the Spurs immediately by opening the game with what was called a 3-pointer. A review later changed it to a 2-pointer but it had gotten the crowd going.
The Spurs led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter. The Heat fought back to cut the deficit to one in the third quarter before the Spurs pushed the lead to as much as 20 in the fourth quarter. Miami got within eight points in the final two minutes but the Spurs were able to hold on.
Tony Parker led San Antonio with 26 points and Danny Green also had 24. Green continued his hot 3-point shooting by going 6 of 10 and setting a record for most 3-pointers made in an NBA Finals.
LeBron James led the Heat with 25 points and Dwyane Wade added 24.
Miami must now win two straight games at home to win a second straight title. But it’s been done three out of eight times since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985.
The turning point: After leading by 17 points in the second quarter, the Spurs saw their lead cut to 75-74 early in the third quarter. So what did San Antonio do?
Take an even bigger lead.
The Spurs went on a 19-1 run that extended into the fourth quarter. That gave them a 94-75 lead.
The difference maker: Ginobili hadn’t started a game since Game 6 of last year’s Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City. And he had been averaging a meager 7.5 points on 34.8 percent shooting in the first four games of the Finals.
It didn’t matter. Ginobili, 35, turned the clock back to yesteryear. He shot 8 of 14.
Ginobili seemed to benefit by playing alongside longtime teammates Tim Duncan and Parker and the rest of the first unit. That perhaps took some pressure off being keyed upon with the second unit.
What it means: The Heat are in trouble. But they’re not in a tremendous amount of it.
Three teams have won the two Finals games at home in the 2-3-2 format to claim the series 4-3. The Los Angeles Lakers did it to Detroit 4-3 in 1988, Houston to New York in 1994 and the Lakers to Boston in 2010.
Heat president Pat Riley was part of two times it has been done. He was on the winning side as Lakers coach in 1988 and lost as Knicks coach in 1994.
What’s next: Game 6 of the series is at 9 p.m. Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.