MIAMI — The NBA plans to make San Antonio pay for resting four starters.
The Miami Heat almost could not.
Ray Allen’s 3-pointer with 22.6 seconds left gave Miami the lead, LeBron James finished with 23 points and the Heat rallied late to beat the Spurs 105-100 on Thursday night — digging deep despite San Antonio’s decision to have four top players resting at home in a move that bothered NBA Commissioner David Stern.
The Spurs played without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, all sent back to San Antonio by coach Gregg Popovich, who said the move was in his team’s best interest. Stern disagreed, calling the decision “unacceptable,” apologizing to fans and saying that sanctions against the Spurs will be forthcoming.
After the game, Popovich said he was unaware of Stern’s statement and declined comment about what it might mean.
“Oh, it would have been great if we won,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said after hearing about Stern’s statement. “It goes back to what I was saying, I’m sure everybody else was saying before the game. We have faith in everybody on our roster.
“We think we have one of the deepest teams in the league.”
The Heat weren’t disagreeing afterward.
“We survived,” Chris Bosh said. “And we won. They have a bunch of talented guys over there. I know that nobody’s going to really give them credit, but they are a tough bunch.”
How tough? Try this — the Spurs led by seven with 4:48 left, and the margin was still 98-93 when Gary Neal made a 3-pointer with 2:14 remaining.
From there, Miami closed on a 12-2 run.
But all anyone will likely remember from this one is Popovich’s decision — and whatever Stern does as a result.
“I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Allen scored 20 points, Dwyane Wade added 19 and Chris Bosh finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, now 7-0 at home.
Neal had 20 points for the Spurs. Tiago Splitter scored 18 points, Nando De Colo added 15, Boris Diaw scored 12 and Bonner had 10 for San Antonio, which finished a six-games-in-nine-nights road trip with a 5-1 record.
Bonner also had 10 rebounds, one more than he had grabbed all season entering the game.
“Pop is the coach of the San Antonio Spurs,” Neal said.
“He did what’s best for us.”
Stern’s statement was released roughly the same time as tip-off in Miami for the nationally televised game.
The Spurs’ five starters came into the game averaging a combined 23.6 points, or 1.6 points less than James averaged entering Thursday night.
And when the Heat ran out to a 16-6 lead, it seemed as though a blowout was in the offing.
After all, even the oddsmakers in Las Vegas expected it to be that way — the Heat were favoured by six points in most sports books before the news broke that the Spurs’ regulars were resting, after which the line swelled to 13.
Apparently, no one told the Spurs that the second-string was supposed to play second-fiddle.
San Antonio closed the first quarter on a 21-6 run, taking a 27-22 lead after the period, and simply did not go away. The Spurs led by as many as seven at one point, and after James Anderson made a pair of free throws with 0.6 seconds left in the third, San Antonio held a 76-73 lead heading into the final 12 minutes.
But once again, James-to-Allen proved magical for Miami.