SAN ANTONIO — The healing began with about five minutes left in the third quarter, Manu Ginobili rising for a three-pointer that gave the San Antonio Spurs a lead simply too massive to overcome.
As a barrage of Patty Mills three-pointers added to the onslaught Sunday (Monday in Manila) night, the decibel level inside the normally placid AT&T Center rose to jumbo-jet-on-takeoff proportions.
The Spurs are champions once again, a 104-87 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Finals giving them a fifth NBA title and presumably soothing much of the hurt that had lingered since the Spurs fell short in soul-crushing fashion last year in the final two games against the same team on the same stage.
“Why not us?” Miami star LeBron James had wondered aloud on the eve of Sunday’s game, referring to the Heat’s epic comeback hopes.
Because the Spurs were better than the two-time defending champions. Way better.
San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard, the onetime Riverside (Calif.) King High star who turns 23 in two weeks, collected 22 points and 10 rebounds on the way to securing most-valuable-player honors in only his third NBA season.
Unlike James, essentially a one-man operation with 31 of the Heat’s points, Leonard had plenty of help. Ginobili finished with 19 points and Mills added 17, making four of his five three-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Spurs built a 22-point cushion.
Miami was unable to overcome the psychological toll of back-to-back blowouts on its home court and an equally disheartening 69-24 blitz by the Spurs in Game 5 from the start of the second quarter until late in the third.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade looked slow and old for a second consecutive game, never more so than on a third-quarter drive in which San Antonio center Tiago Splitter, of all people, blocked his shot. Wade finished with 11 points on four-for-12 shooting. Miami’s Chris Bosh, who had predicted victory in the morning shootaround, was also largely a non-factor with 13 points.
Spurs power forward Tim Duncan had 14 points and eight rebounds on the way to winning a fifth championship for himself and coach Gregg Popovich, their first since 2007. Guard Tony Parker had 16 points on an inefficient seven-for-18 shooting and probably didn’t care after logging a fourth title as part of the trio that also includes Duncan and Ginobili.
Miami started Ray Allen instead of the struggling Mario Chalmers in an effort to get off to a better start than it had in the previous two games, and the plan worked flawlessly in the early going.
Well, mostly because the Heat still had James on the court. He had a career first quarter, scoring 17 points on five-for-seven shooting to go with six rebounds and an assist while acting as the primary point guard and defender on Parker. He materialized seemingly from nowhere to block one Parker layup with his left hand.
The Heat scored eight unanswered points to open the game, giving Miami its biggest lead of the series to that point, and held a 22-6 advantage after Allen made a three-pointer.
Leonard and Ginobili then led a crazy comeback, fans chanting “MVP!” as Leonard made a pair of free throws late in the quarter that pulled the Spurs to within seven points.
The same duo led the Spurs’ second-quarter charge, Leonard pulling up in transition for a three-pointer that gave his team its first lead and Ginobili soaring for a dunk over Bosh that padded the advantage.
San Antonio outscored the Heat, 25-11, in the second quarter and closed the first half on a 41-18 run despite starters Parker and Danny Green going scoreless on a combined 0-for-11 shooting. James scored 20 points in the half, matching the combined output of his teammates.
The startling lack of support was an ongoing issue throughout the series, triggering reminders of James’ years of unfulfillment in Cleveland.