Kawhi Leonard sprinted unchecked into the paint late in the first half as teammate Patty Mills’ shot arced toward the basket. Leonard leaped into the air and snagged the ball as it bounced off the rim, throwing down a vicious two-handed dunk to put the San Antonio Spurs ahead by 22 points.
Fans inside AmericanAirlines Arena, known to give up on their team even in championship times, loudly booed the development Thursday night, with some heading toward the exits, if just for a halftime break.
There was no reason to return, really, unless it was to possibly say goodbye to the Miami Heat in a season that could be over as soon as Sunday.
San Antonio outplayed the two-time defending champions by almost every measure for a second consecutive game on the Heat’s home floor, taking Game 4 with a 107-86 flogging that put the Spurs one victory away from their first championship since 2007.
“We’re going to use our home court and we’re going to come with the same focus that we did in these last two games and hopefully close it out at home,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, whose 10 points and 11 rebounds nudged him past Magic Johnson for an NBA-record 158th playoff double-double.
Leonard collected 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks and Tony Parker added 19 points for San Antonio, which takes a three-games-to-one lead back to the AT&T Center for Game 5 on Sunday as part of the new 2-2-1-1-1 series format.
Somewhere, the 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers were exhaling, their designation as the last team to three-peat as champions seeming more secure. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that trail 3-1 in the Finals are 0-31.
“We put ourselves in a position where it is about making history,” said Miami’s LeBron James, whose 28 points equaled the combined output of the other Heat starters. “But all we can do is worry about Game 5.”
Actually, Game 4 should have triggered its own anxieties.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade was particularly atrocious, making one of his first 10 shots on the way to 10 points. Wade missed layups, had shots blocked and appeared physically unable to match up with his Spurs counterparts.
During one three-play sequence in the second quarter, Wade had a shot blocked by Leonard, was dunked on by Boris Diaw and then missed a six-foot jumper.
“I’m not used to missing around the basket,” said Wade, who made three of 13 shots overall. “But law of averages, man. The ball just didn’t go in.”
It did for the Spurs, who shot 57.1 percent largely thanks to more of their legendary ball movement. Diaw alone had nine assists, only four fewer than all the Heat players combined.
Befitting a franchise that emphasizes team basketball, all 13 Spurs players scored, even end-of-the-bench center Aron Baynes.
Miami had gone 48 consecutive playoff games without consecutive defeats before Thursday, last losing back-to-back games in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics.
Of course, the Heat had lost only 13 postseason games during that stretch.
This one was over by late in the second quarter, when Diaw showed why he had once played some point guard.
He repeatedly found teammates for easy opportunities, making a no-look, behind-the-back pass out of a double team to Tiago Splitter underneath the basket for a dunk.
“They force us to make three, four, five passes,” Diaw said. “But at some point we find somebody.”
Heat officials must have been feeling cheeky before the game. Fans arrived to find T-shirts at their seats bearing a likeness of the Larry O’Brien Trophy along with the phrase “#LARRYLOVESMIAMI.”
Well, maybe not this year.