It started as rotation roulette.
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No, this 109-93 Heat victory on Thursday night at the AT&T Center was about desperation on one side, trying to avoid the dreaded 1-3 NBA Finals deficit, one realized 31 previous times and never overcome.
And it was about championship pedigree on the other side, because when the Spurs arrive at the NBA Finals, they arrive with hardware plans already in place, having won all four previous visits.
So back and forth it went. Spurs up 10 early. Then Heat by 10. Then tied at halftime.
The Spurs with 3-point shots. The Heat with 3-point plays.
LeBron James was uber-aggressive; there would be no blame sent his direction after this one.
Tony Parker was uber-spry, no sign of a hamstring so troubling it required a Wednesday's MRI.
Dwyane Wade joined in this time for a full game, having gone missing beyond halftime in the series' first three games.
The Spurs' 3-point shooters continued to have their moments, because that's what they do.
And on it went, rotations adjusted on the fly, this time no room for Chris Andersen, Birdman never taking flight.
Unlike Tuesday's blowout loss, this would not be a night of shame for the Heat. LeBron wouldn't let that happen.
But the Spurs are good, persistent, pesky.
Normally that's enough.
But the Heat after a loss?
"When those guys play like that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "you better be playing the more perfect game."
Want to see a Heat win?
Show up after a Heat loss.
"They kicked our butts the other night," Spoelstra said. "[Wednesday] was a miserable day."
For every moment like Tuesday, there has been an equal and opposite response from the Heat.
That response came Thursday.
"Probably one of the strengths of this team is rather than point fingers or deflection, is getting to the heart of the matter," Spoelstra said.
It is why we now stand 2-2, the Finals reduced to best-of-three, with two of those three on the Heat's home court, with the series to conclude at AmericanAirlines Arena after Sunday's Game 5 back at the AT&T Center.
"That's way too far to think about it," Spoelstra said of anything beyond Sunday. "We understood this game was a survival game."
At one point, it appeared the 2-3-2 formatting of the NBA Finals, the only playoff round contested with such scheduling, would be the bane of the Heat.
Instead, it could offer salvation.
There will be NBA basketball again this season in South Florida, something that hardly appeared a given after the Heat's Game 1 loss or Tuesday's 36-point disgrace, the Heat's worst loss of the Big Three era, the franchise's worst playoff loss ever.
"It's all about how you respond," Bosh said of a Heat mantra three years in the Big Three making. "Ever since we got together, since the first game, we've had to respond to adversity."
You could see it in the faces after the morning shootaround, players quickly streaming to the team bus. No time for talking.
And you could see it at the rim later in the day, Wade the latest to torment Splitter, who quickly is becoming a series punch line ("Take my dunk, please").
Early on, amid the rotation roulette, it appeared to be the matchup many feared going in, Spoelstra vs. Popovich. The Heat coach batting .500 in NBA Finals against the Spurs coach a perfect 4 for 4 in his previous visits.
Ultimately, it was about none of that, even as the maneuvering continued.
It was about LeBron and Wade and Chris Bosh, who finally stepped forward.
And it had to be, because the Spurs' Danny Green and Neal kept hitting timely 3-pointers.
The series is going at least six. And it looks like it well could go the limit.
Because of the Heat's Game 1 loss, there don't have to be consecutive losses for it to end badly.
But with consecutive wins, something that has not happened in these latest two playoff rounds, that Sunday night flight home could have a championship air about it.
"We can't wait until our back is against the wall every time to respond," James said. "We have to build some momentum."
Following up a loss with a win has become routine. The next step is to follow a win with a win.
"Our focus," Wade said, "is on trying to bring the same disposition on Sunday."
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