Heat's mammoth third fuels comeback win
MIAMI — Outside of perhaps the French Quarter, it was the best quarter anybody has seen in a long time.
The Miami Heat looked done in the first half Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, ready to suffer their fourth straight loss. They were down by as many as 17 to the San Antonio Spurs, with the deficit 14 when the half mercifully came to an end.
Nobody claimed that Miami coach Erik Spoelstra made like Knute Rockne at halftime, but something sure changed. The Heat outscored the Spurs by 27 in the third quarter and went on to win 120-98.
"It was a great quarter," said LeBron James, who scored 17 of his game-high 33 points during a magnificent third quarter. "It started defensively and trickled down to everybody else."
Mostly it trickled down to James, who shot 7 of 9 in the quarter, all on jumpers, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range, and had three assists. James added some theatrics after one shot, leering at the Spurs bench.
"A lot of teams are going to dare me to shoot, I understand that," James said. "They're going to try to take away my drive. When you get it going that way, I guess coaches always say about me, ‘If he's making outside shots, then we can live with it."'
Well, the Spurs (9-5) didn't live too well with it as the Heat (9-4) showed what they're capable of when extra motivation surfaces. The three-game losing streak had caused some to wonder if Miami, an overwhelming pick to win the NBA crown, was overrated.
It certainly looked that way in the first half. Yes, the Heat were playing without Dwyane Wade, who sat out with a sprained ankle on his 30th birthday. But it was an embarrassing showing, the Heat helplessly watching the Spurs shoot 56.5 percent in the half.
"We stunk it up in the first half," said Chris Bosh, who finished with 30 points and eight rebounds. "We really played bad. If we want to get where we want to go, we can't play like that. We can't start the game off like that, especially against good teams like San Antonio."
Bosh actually wasn't all that bad, scoring 18 in the first half. But James had plenty of struggles, especially in the first quarter, shooting 1 of 5 from the field and 4 of 8 from the foul line. James was under the weather due a cold and it looked as if he would be conjuring up no memories of Michael Jordan playing when he was sick.
Well, check that. James got better in the second quarter, shooting 4 of 6 for 10 points. As for the third quarter, a tape of it wouldn't be out of place in at least a South Florida Hall of Fame.
Back to Jordan. With James drilling jumper after jumper in the third, one almost expected him to raise his palms and shrug much like Jordan did in the 1992 Finals.
"LeBron James was great," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who said his team "folded" in the second half when it was outscored 71-35, including 39-12 in the third. "He waited for the third quarter to come and he went wild."
James said he was having trouble getting his second wind in the first half. Nevertheless, he shook it off, realizing the Heat certainly couldn't lose a fourth straight game with the Lakers about to show up Thursday.
"I just refocused, just knowing this is a big game for us," said James, whose four 3-pointers were one more than he had in his first 11 games. "It's a big week. I needed to step up my play personally…. You can't really explain it when you get in those zones. I told you guys I can still shoot the 3. I just decided not to" — until Tuesday.
He's not the only one on the Heat who still can stroke it. To show what a monumental second half it was for Miami, consider it almost was an afterthought that swingman Mike Miller, playing in his first game of the season, shot 6 of 6 from 3-point range in the half for all of his 18 points.
Miller hadn't played since Game 6 of the Finals last June 12. He underwent sports hernia surgery Nov. 28 and spent the past 10 days begging to be thrown into a game.
He might have made a difference during that three-game skid.
"They're all good looks," Miller said of Tuesday. "Obviously, I didn't shoot as well as I wanted to last year. Is that because I had (two) broken thumbs? I don't know. I'm not using that as an excuse. But I feel like I can make shots. I have for my career. I'm not saying I'm going to make them at this pace… Sometimes, you pull a rabbit out of the hat."
The way Miller was going, he also could have sawed a woman in half and made an elephant disappear. Spoelstra said he was going to give Miller only five minutes, but he ended up playing him 15.
Miller was out of breath in the second half but kept making shots. He came up one shy of the team record for most 3-pointers made without a miss.
The Heat also challenged a team record in the third quarter, in which they outscored the Spurs 36-7 until the final minute. The 27-point margin in the quarter ended up one point shy of the biggest quarter walloping in team history, and was the second-most lopsided deficit the Spurs have had in a quarter.
Miami's 75 percent shooting in the quarter included Bosh going coast-to-coast past helpless Spurs for a dunk. Of all the quarters he has played, Bosh said this one "was one of the best. We got a lot of stops, we got out in the open court in transition and we shot the lights out."
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson.