The first three games of this year’s NBA Finals have put the Miami Heat in a position similar to the one they were in last year.
Which means Game 4 is a must-win for the team.
After going up 2-1 through three games in the 2011 NBA Finals, the Heat went on to lose the final three games and, in turn, the series to the Dallas Mavericks.
However, besides a similar series lead through three games, further similarities between the 2012 and 2011 NBA Finals for the Heat may be difficult to find.
Following Game 3 of the 2011 NBA Finals, LeBron James had scored a combined 61 points.
This season, he eclipsed that mark following Game 2.
James’ 91 points combined in three games is a big reason why the Heat were able to bounce back after a Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, James and the Heat are still playing a team that has already overcome a 2-0 deficit against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
Furthermore, prior to Game 2 of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Thunder had not lost a single home game during their postseason run.
If the Heat don’t win Game 4, they will be forced to return to Oklahoma City for at least Game 6, with a Game 7 on the road looming.
In the meantime, however, the Heat are about to enjoy what could be the most beneficial difference between their current NBA Finals trip and the one made last year.
In an article that can be found on News-Leader.com, James describes the difference between Game 4 for the Heat this season as compared to last season.
“We’re a totally different team than we was last year when we was up 2-1,” James said Monday. “We’re a totally different team. We understand what it takes to win, we’ve used that motivation, and we will continue to use that motivation. But last year is last year, and we’re not going into a Game 4 on someone else’s floor. We’re going into a Game 4 on our floor with a lot of experience in this type of situation. We’ll be ready. We love the challenge.”
The Heat have lost just two games at home this postseason. They are also averaging 98.6 points per game at home during their current playoff run.
However, on the road, the Heat's scoring dips to 92.9 points per game, a difference of 5.7 points.
The Thunder, meanwhile, are averaging over 102 points per game at home, and just under 100 points on the road.
But what could make Game 4 even more pivotal for the Heat is the youth that they are currently going up against, and who are gaining invaluable experience.
The Thunder’s core—Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden—are all under the age of 24.
That makes for three players under the age of 24 who are averaging over 100 points per game at home during their first trip to the NBA Finals, and who have lost just one home game by a total of four points.
If the Heat lose Game 4, they will not only fall into a series tie, but also allow Durant and the Thunder to prove that they can win on the road against the Heat in this series. If the series turns into a three-game match, the Heat will be forced to go on the road for the final two.
If the Heat win Game 4, however, they will still have one final home game to try and close out the series.
Furthermore, Game 4 will allow the Heat to catch the Thunder at their weakest point so far in the series.
After scoring 31 fourth-quarter points in Game 1 and 29 fourth-quarter points in Game 2, the Thunder managed just 18 points in the final quarter of Game 3. And this decrease could be in large part due to the job done by James while defending Durant.
With James defending him throughout Game 3, Durant had his lowest point total of any game in the series, while going just 1-of-5 in the fourth quarter. Out of the Thunder’s 18 fourth-quarter points, Durant had four.
Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade increased his points total for the third consecutive game.
With James and Wade on the upswing and Durant coming off his first shaky performance of the NBA Finals, the importance of Game 4 is even higher.
The Heat are in the NBA Finals and leading their series 2-1 for the second consecutive year. Last season, Game 4 proved to be the beginning of the end of the team’s title hopes, as they lost the remaining three games to the Mavericks. This season, however, the Heat have a chance for redemption.
After avoiding having to play a Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls team on their way to the NBA Finals, the Heat have positioned themselves for the moment they envisioned when they originally signed James and Chris Bosh to free-agent deals.
With the next game at home, James playing as if he is not going to let this championship slip away and a chance to crush a young and talented Thunder team who could be a dynasty in the making, Game 4 could be the turning point for the team and their title chances.
Which is why it is a must-win for the Heat.