There were obvious differences, mostly to Miami's roster. Starters Luol Deng (knee) and Udonis Haslem (illness) were out, and a number of active players were dealing with injuries. Still, this team takes pride in their "no excuse" approach to playing through pain and they played bravely despite being overmatched for most of the game.
The Heat started off horrendously, missing their first 10 shot attempts. Dwyane Wade (who finished with 15 points on 6-of-20 shooting) his Miami's first field goal with over six minutes gone by in the first quarter. But Miami regained their composure and closed the period hitting eight of their next nine shots to a take an improbable 20-19 lead.
The Spurs predictably went on a run to start the second quarter but Miami's 11-4 run tied the game at 33. Hassan Whiteside, in his first game back since receiving 10 stitches on his lacerated right hand, was a huge difference-maker. He immediately impacted San Antonio's ability to finish at the rim, swatting a number of shots with zeal. On offense, he finished at the rim with ease, finishing the night with 10 points (on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting). Once Whiteside went to the bench, the Spurs capitalized immediately with a 12-4 run that threatened to put the game out of reach. But Mario Chalmers ended the half in dramatic fashion, sinking a 60-foot shot at the buzzer to cut the Spurs lead to five.
Momentum seemed to sway in Miami's favor ever-so-briefly to start the third quarter, with San Antonio turning the ball over on a number of possession and the Heat's 8-3 run put the score at 51-50.
Fool's gold, unfortunately.
The Spurs would suddenly click into gear, just as they did during last year's championship run. Passes were extra sharp, shots fell with ease and the defense intensified. Kawhi Leonard (22 points, 9 rebounds 4 steals, 3 assists, 2 blocks - unbelievable) was the spark, harassing Wade with tentacle-like arms and causing chaos all over the floor. And, unlike the case in so many recent Heat wins, Wade and Goran Dragic wouldn't rise to the challenge - they finished with a combined 34 points but also shot just 12-of-34 from the field. The other starters - Chris Andersen, Henry Walker and James Ennis - would chip in just 13 points and the depleted bench was not the answer.
The Spurs' lead grew to as much as 21 midway through the fourth quarter. The Heat gave it one last shot, closing the gap to 10 with 3:31 left in the game but San Antonio just could be denied by that point. The win (San Antonio's 14th in their last 16 games) was merely a formality and a broken-down Heat team looked ahead to a three-game road trip that starts Thursday at Cleveland.