The Miami Heat are just one win away from capturing the 2012 NBA Finals, and if history is any kind of predictor, the Heat will be holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy sometime in the next four or five days.
Since the NBA Finals went to a 2-3-2 format, no team has come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Miami will get its first crack at eliminating the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night in Game 5 in Miami.
Here's what the Heat need to do Thursday night to finish off Oklahoma City at home:
Survive (Another) Early Onslaught
Maybe the Thunder won't jump out to a 17-point first quarter lead in Game 5. But Miami better be ready for a focused basketball team on the opposite bench, especially with the Oklahoma City's 2011-12 season on the line.
As was the case in Game 4, Miami needs to ride out the Thunder's early wave of positive emotion—and possibly the Heat's early nervous emotion in a close-out game—to start Game 5. As we've seen throughout these NBA playoffs, a 10-point first quarter lead means squat.
Get LeBron the Ball on the Block
This isn't to rip LeBron, but it is surprising that it took almost nine NBA seasons for James to figure out that he's an unstoppable basketball player when he adds a post game. So far in this series—and these playoffs, really—James has done just that.
If Miami keeps feeding LeBron on the block—especially early, to get easy looks—I don't see how there's anyway Oklahoma City holds James under 30-35 points. He's simply too hard to defend when he puts his 6'8", 270-pound frame into the post against a smaller defender.
Keep Things Difficult for James Harden
Credit Miami for turning the Thunder's "Big 3" into the "Big 2" in these NBA Finals. Harden, who many considered to be a tough player for the Heat to defend coming into this series, has had a miserable series.
Save for a 21-point game in Game 2, Harden has scored five, eight and nine points in the other three games. In Games 1, 3 and 4 combined, Harden has shot six-for-26, including back-to-back two-for-10 shooting performances in Games 3 and 4.
I don't see a way out for Oklahoma City in this series if Harden doesn't play well. There's no Game 6 of the 2012 NBA Finals if Harden shoots anywhere near two-for-10 Thursday night. It will be up to Miami's defense to ensure Harden doesn't find an early rhythm in Game 5.
Continued Energy from Chris Bosh
Bosh hasn't played a huge role in the Finals, but part of that is due to his recovery from an abdominal injury during the Pacers series. But Miami continues to get great energy from the 6'11" power forward, both on the offensive glass and defensively.
While Bosh hasn't scored more than 16 points in any of the four NBA Finals games, he is averaging 10 rebounds a contest and has, for the most part, completely shut down the offensive game of Serge Ibaka.
Bosh also made a couple important hustle plays down the stretch in Games 3 and 4—plays that don't show up in the boxscore but are usually the difference in a close series like this one.
Remember, the cumulative score of this series is just 389-384 in favor of the Heat. A play here or there has been the difference in every game. Bosh has provided such plays for Miami this series.
Role Players Stepping Up
If Miami wins this series, the credit will go to James, Wade and Bosh—and rightfully so. But the production Miami has received from its role players has been a turning point in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Early on, it was Shane Battier, who scored 17 points in each of the first two games of this series and routinely hit big jumpers in Games 3 and 4. Then there was Norris Cole whose spark in Game 4 helped Miami crawl out of an early 17-point hole.
Mario Chalmers may have been the most impressive, however, as he hit nine-of-15 shots (including three-of-nine from three) and scored 25 points in Game 4. This series is likely 2-2 without the heroics of Chalmers down the stretch Tuesday night.
Overall, however, the Miami role players have wiped the floor clean with Oklahoma City's. No one will remember that fact years from now if the Heat win Thursday night, but Chalmers, Battier and Cole all played important roles to get Miami up 3-1.
Own the Fourth Quarter
Miami stunk up the final 12 minutes of Game 1, and it cost them an opening win in the series on the road. Since then, however, the Heat have won games by outplaying Oklahoma City when it matters most.
All that talk about LeBron not being clutch late has looked foolish in Games 2, 3 and 4. James hit big free throws to clinch Game 2, knocked home a tough bank shot as the shot clock was winding down late in Game 3 and then returned from a cramping issue to hit two shots in Game 4 that helped put the Thunder away.
Since Game 1, Miami has outscored Oklahoma City in each of the last three fourth quarters, with the Heat owning a 13-point advantage over the final 12 minutes of that three-game stretch. It's been Miami's time in each of three wins during the NBA Finals.
If the Heat are to win the NBA title Thursday night, expect them to close it out by controlling the Thunder in crunch time.