MIAMI — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to say a series doesn’t really start until the road team wins. Perhaps it actually doesn’t start until the Heat fall behind.
The Heat seem to be at their best when they face adversity. Last year, they became the first NBA team to trail in three different series and win the championship.
So far this spring, the Heat have fallen behind in a series twice and needed a Game 7 to beat Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Maybe it’s just in the DNA,’’ Miami center Chris Bosh said. “We just really respond well.’’
If the Heat plan on winning another title, Sunday’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena would be a good time to once again respond. They trail 1-0 against the San Antonio Spurs.
When Miami lost 92-88 in Thursday’s Game 1, perhaps some Heat fans yawned. And why not?
“They lost Game 1 before (and came back),’’ Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “They are just good.’’
During both of their previous Finals victories, the Heat fell in Game 1. That happened in 2006 against Dallas and last year vs. Oklahoma City. The only time they’ve won Game 1 of a Finals, they lost the series in 2011 to Dallas.
Thursday’s loss was a bit different than the 2006 and 2012 Finals, considering it came at home. Now, in the 2-3-2 format, if the Heat don’t win at least one of three possible games in San Antonio, there won’t even be a Game 6 back at AmericanAirlines Arena. And the Heat would have to win twice in San Antonio to stay alive if they aren’t victorious Sunday.
“You got to be nuts to want to go to San Antonio down 2-0,’’ Miami forward Udonis Haslem said.
For now, though, a 1-0 deficit is nothing for the Heat. They were down 2-1 to the Pacers last year in an East semifinal and faced what was practically a must-win situation in Game 4 on the road. They triumphed.
Then they trailed Boston 3-2 in the East finals and faced two must-win games. They came through.
This spring, they lost Game 1 at home in an East semifinal to Chicago before winning four straight. Then they kicked away Game 2 at home to the Pacers in the East finals before coming back to eventually win in seven games.
“I won’t say we need it,’’ guard Dwyane Wade said of the Heat often not playing their best ball until they fall behind in a series. “But we have our own journey. We are different from any other team . . . And our journey is whatever road we’re taking. Right now, we’re down 1-0 in the Finals and we have to figure out a way.’’
While falling behind in a series is hardly a choice for the Heat, they certainly do wake up when they smell adversity. After they lost Game 1 of the Finals last year at Oklahoma City, they really came alive, winning the next four games.
“For whatever reason, we have a sense of desperation when we feel like somebody’s threatening to take away our dream from us,’’ Haslem said. “We turn it up a notch and we play at a high level and we get it done. But we definitely don’t want to rely on that being the case. That’s a dangerous game to play, so we don’t look forward to being down in the series. That’s how it ends up being.’’
While it can’t compare yet to being down 3-2 to the Celtics, this might be Miami’s second-diciest situation over the past two seasons. Indiana and Oklahoma City can’t claim the championship experience the Spurs have and nobody expected the injury-riddled Bulls to have much of a chance against the Heat even after they won Game 1.
San Antonio’s journeys in the Finals have been far different than Miami’s. While the Heat now have trailed in all four Finals in team history, the Spurs, making their fifth appearance, never have fallen behind in one.
“We understand just because we’ve done it before doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee against a team we’re playing like right now,’’ Spoelstra said. “We have to play well. We have to finish all the way through.’’
At least Spoelstra has some other stats on his side entering Sunday. The Heat haven’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 8 at Indiana and Jan. 10 at Portland.
When it comes to Miami dropping two straight games, with both being at home, you’ve got to go way back. That last happened with a loss March 6, 2011, to Chicago and another two days later to Portland.
“We kind of just bounce back after a loss,’’ forward LeBron James said. “No matter if it’s on the road or at home. We’ve been able to bounce back.’’
History might now say the Heat are right where they usually turn it on. Then again, San Antonio’s history could suggest otherwise.