This time it was Heat coach Erik Spoelstra emptying his bench early and contemplating how to deal with the doubts that will be raised in the next 36 hours.
The Heat were run out of the AT&T Center on Tuesday, hardly putting up a fight in the second half of a 113-77 Spurs victory that gives San Antonio a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
The margin was the third-largest in Finals history.
“They outplayed and they outclassed us from the tip,” Spoelstra said. “I did not recognize the team that was out there.”
San Antonio turned a game that was tied in the final minute of the first half into Miami’s worst loss of the season. The Spurs outscored Miami 63-33 in the second half.
The Spurs set a Finals record with 16 three-pointers, seven by shooting guard Danny Green and six by reserve point guard Gary Neal. The record had been 14.
The only negative for San Antonio was a hamstring injury to point guard Tony Parker. He left the game with five minutes remaining in the third quarter and returned just briefly in the fourth quarter. He is expected to have an MRI today.
Miami, which never led in Game 3, now faces a crucial Game 4 Thursday in San Antonio (9 p.m., ABC).
“We got our butt whooped,” Dwyane Wade said. “They came out in the third quarter and kicked our butt pretty good and frustration started to set in.”
Several times Spoelstra said the Heat “got what we deserved” and placed the blame for this loss solely on the defense. He didn’t want to hear about the team’s offensive woes, including LeBron James scoring 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting and not attempting a free throw for the first time since 2009.
The Spurs, Spoelstra said, “got into an incredible rhythm. Every shot they wanted they got. We did not disrupt them.”
The Heat once again were forced to find a way to score with James struggling to find his shot. James is shooting 38.9 percent in the series (21-of-54) after shooting a career-best 56.5 percent during the season. He is averaging 16.7 points in the three games against the Spurs.
“I’ve just got to play better,” James said. “I can’t have a performance like that and expect to win the game. I’ve got to shoot the ball better and I’ve got to make better decisions.
“I’m not putting the blame on anybody. I’m owning everything I did. … I’m not making any excuses — I’ve got to be better.”
James was frustrated throughout the game, at one time slamming the scorers’ table after the Heat called a timeout. Still, Spoelstra said he is not worried about the four-time MVP.
“He’ll figure it out; he always figures it out,” Spoelstra said. “I’m not concerned about that.”
Wade led the Heat with 16 points and Mike Miller had 15, making all five of his 3-point attempts. Miller is 8-for-8 on 3s in the last two games.
Mario Chalmers, who led the Heat with 19 points in Game 2, was held scoreless. Chalmers missed all five of his shots and had four turnovers and four fouls.
The Spurs’ Green led all scorers with 27 points while Neal added 24. They combined to shoot 13-of-19 on 3s.
“They have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” said Heat center Chris Bosh, who scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds. “They’re very unselfish. They pretty much got everything they wanted tonight, which is a very dangerous game to play with this team.”
The scary part for Miami: San Antonio could have won this game with Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili not taking a shot. The three combined for 25 points, with Duncan scoring 12 and grabbing 14 rebounds.
The Spurs showed they could bounce back after wilting in the second half of Miami’s Game 2 victory. They beat Miami to most of the loose balls, were more active on the boards with a 19-9 edge in offensive rebounds and had more spring in their legs, which helped them shoot 50 percent on their 32 attempts from beyond the arc.
The 36-point margin of victory has been exceeded only twice in the NBA Finals. In 1998, Chicago beat Utah 96-54, a margin of 42 points. In 2008, Boston beat the L.A. Lakers 131-92, a 39-point difference.
“It’s just one win for them,” James said of the Spurs. “They played a great game and got everything that they wanted. But at the end of the day you only get one win, no matter how many points you are up. And we get another opportunity on Thursday.”