MIAMI — They lost three times in three months in one of the most overpowering stretches the NBA has ever seen.
Now the Miami Heat have lost three times in five games.
So superb during the regular season, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat have to be something even more for the rest of the NBA Finals.
They have to be perfect.
"We look forward to the challenge," James said.
The San Antonio Spurs can finish Miami off Tuesday night in Game 6, reaffirming themselves as one of the league's greatest franchises.
If so, the Heat and their Big Three once again go from celebrated to devastated, just as they were two years ago when they came home from Texas facing this same predicament.
"We're going to see if we're a better team than we were our first year together," James said.
The Spurs took a 3-2 lead with their 114-104 victory Sunday night. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were all brilliant again, and Danny Green added to what could become one of the most out-of-nowhere finals MVP campaigns ever.
One more victory makes the Spurs 5-0 in the NBA Finals, keeping pace with Michael Jordan's 6-0 Chicago Bulls as the only teams to make it here multiple times and never lose.
"We understand Game 6 is huge," Parker said. "Obviously, you want to finish in the first opportunity you get. We understand that Miami is going to come out with a lot more energy, and they're going to play better at home. They're going to shoot the ball better. Their crowd is going to be behind them."
None of that mattered two years ago.
Clearly reeling and their psyches shaken after dropping two straight games in Dallas, the Heat were blitzed early in Game 6. They never recovered, Chris Bosh inconsolable as he made his way back to the locker room afterward while the Mavericks celebrated at center court.
James had to endure the criticisms that came with not getting it done in the finals, a story line that was put to rest last year but will be back again if the Heat don't manage to put together consecutive victories.
"We challenge ourselves to see if we're a better team than we were," Wade said. "Same position no matter how we got to it."
The Heat would also host Game 7 on Thursday. They're trying to join the 1988 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers and 1994 Houston Rockets as the only teams to rally from 3-2 down by winning the final two on their home floor since the NBA Finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985.
Of course, the Heat — who won 27 in a row during the second-longest winning streak in league history — haven't put together consecutive victories now in close to a month.
"We're in a position where it's a must-win and everything that we've done all year comes to this point, and we have to win," Heat guard Ray Allen said. "We've found ourselves in so many situations this year, and we've thrived in tough moments because this is a tough team. We will be ready for Game 6."
|Pittsburgh - WP: B. Morris||8||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - LP: S. LeCure||7|
|Washington - LP: S. Strasburg||2||FINAL|
|Miami - WP: T. Koehler||11|
|Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole||5||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - WP: M. Leake||7|
|Seattle - LP: B. Beavan||0||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: R. Ross Jr.||5|
|St. Louis - WP: S. Miller||6||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - LP: M. Estrada||1|
|Boston - LP: B. Badenhop||1||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: D. Webb||2|
|Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura||4||FINAL|
|Houston - LP: L. Harrell||2|
|Toronto - WP: A. Loup||9||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes||3|
|NY Mets - WP: J. Mejia||9||FINAL|
|Arizona - LP: B. Arroyo||0|
|Oakland - WP: J. Johnson||10||FINAL|
|LA Angels - LP: Y. Herrera||9|
|Colorado - WP: J. Nicasio||3||FINAL|
|San Diego - LP: R. Erlin||2|
|Los Angeles - LP: B. League||2||FINAL|
|San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit||3|