Those hopes were dashed in a mere 16 seconds.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 28 points, Kawhi Leonard added 23 and the Spurs got seven points on one possession to help them beat the Heat 119-101 on Tuesday night — the sixth straight time San Antonio has topped Miami, going back to the 2014 NBA Finals.
Danny Green scored 15 for the Spurs, who have won five straight.
"You saw what we felt," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "The Spurs were terrific in that second half. Right now, that's a different level of basketball from where we are, right now, today. But that doesn't mean it can't change when we get back from the break."
Dwyane Wade scored 20 points on 9 for 12 shooting for Miami, which goes into the All-Star break on a two-game slide. Chris Bosh scored 18 and Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and six rebounds before getting ejected in that pivotal possession in the fourth. Whiteside was assessed a flagrant-2 for elbowing the Spurs' Boban Marjanovic as they tried to get position for a rebound.
"We've been through this with him before," Spoelstra said of Whiteside. "It's a disappointing play. That's not a basketball play."
Whiteside did not comment after the game, sent home by team officials.
"Whatever consequences come from it, he's got to deal with it," Wade said.
Miami trailed by 15 in the third, then got within 87-80 with 9:51 left and there was plenty of life in the arena.
One possession later, the storyline changed mightily.
Patty Mills made a 3-pointer while getting fouled by Beno Udrih to get things started. Mills made the free throw, while Whiteside and Marjanovic tangled and the Heat center led with his elbow while spinning back toward the Spurs' rookie. The flagrant was called, Marjanovic made one free throw and Leonard hit a jumper to complete the possession.
"Rare," Aldridge said. "It's the NBA. Anything is possible."
Just like that, the Spurs were up 94-80 and the outcome wasn't in doubt again.
So the Spurs remained on pace for the third-best regular season in NBA history — very quietly, too.
"We prefer it that way," Green said. "Even if we weren't under the radar, we'd still have to be focused and not pay attention to what goes on outside of what we're doing."
Spurs: Told by TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge in the on-court interview after the first quarter that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the winners in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich walked away shaking his head in silence. ... San Antonio is 45-23 all-time against the Heat, the best record of any Miami opponent. ... PF Tim Duncan (right knee soreness) missed his eighth consecutive game. ... Aldridge scored at least 20 against the Heat for the 10th straight time.
Heat: The Heat had only one offensive rebound, just the second time in franchise history that's happened.... Miami, New York and Dallas wrapped up pre-All-Star schedules Tuesday, the first teams to reach the break. ... Earlier Tuesday, the Heat announced they will retire Shaquille O'Neal's No. 32 jersey next season, date to be determined. ... LSU football coach Les Miles and Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon were courtside.
After the All-Star break, Wade will resume his chase of a major milestone.
He's now 252 points shy of 20,000 in his career. Only 40 other players have gotten there, and only four — Jerry West, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton and Hal Greer — did so being Wade's height (listed at 6-foot-4) or shorter.
"I always said that if I got that many points," said Wade, a three-time NBA champion, "I'd be considered a pretty good player."
The Spurs' annual "Rodeo Trip" has arrived.
Their home arena is occupied by the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo through Feb. 28. San Antonio's next home game is March 2 against Detroit, with a stretch of six road games awaiting after the All-Star break.
Not including trip to Toronto for the All-Star Game — the Spurs' coaching staff is going to lead the Western Conference side, and Leonard and Aldridge will play in the game — the rodeo swing has the Spurs racking up 6,514 travel miles, per the team's calculation.
Spurs: Visit Orlando on Wednesday.
Heat: Visit Atlanta on Feb. 19.