Heat's LeBron James guards Spurs' Gary Neal during Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Surprises? The San Antonio Spurs have none remaining.
The Miami Heat have a bad habit of allowing the opposing team to show their hand and then playing reactionary basketball, instead of imposing their will from the start.
Game 1 of this NBA Finals series was exactly what many expected to see. LeBron James had decent all-around numbers in a triple-double effort. Tim Duncan had a solid 20-point, 14-rebound, 3-block night, and Tony Parker scored crucial points late in the game.
As is their way, the Miami Heat made adjustments for Game 2 and...what do you know? Big Timmy Duncan and Tony Parker are shut down on offense, combining for 8-of-27 shooting (29.6 percent) and minus-14 and minus-27 (+/-), respectively. The Spurs had no answer for the Heat's smothering second-half defense, eventually trailing by 27 late in the fourth quarter and recording a playoff-low 84 points.
After Game 2, those who prognosticated a Heat Finals victory were feeling vindicated and many of those in the Spurs' camp were feeling nervous to slightly terrified.
The Heat stuck to their Game 2 defensive strategy, and they saw similar success as it applies to stopping the Spurs' "Big Three." Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for an abysmal 25 total points on 10-of-23 shooting (43.5 percent).
Clearly, this was a recipe for another Heat victory, right? Wrong.
The Spurs still had a few surprises up their sleeves. Gregg Popovich, or "Pop," isn't considered by many to be the best coach in the NBA today for nothing—and in Game 3 he released those surprises.
Enter Danny Green and and Gary Neal. Who? Exactly—Gary Neal.
Green and Neal were able to capitalize on the Heat's overzealous defense of Parker and Duncan to the point where people had to wonder if the Heat even realized these guys were players in the first place. Green and Neal combined for 13-of-19 from behind the arc.
Time after time, the Heat would rotate defenders off of Green and Neal to double- and even triple-team Parker and Duncan, leaving Green and Neal wide open for three-pointer after three-pointer. By the time there were 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Heat were already down by 25 (88-63), and Danny Green had yet to hit four more of his seven total threes for the game.
So, what were the Heat to do? Adjust, of course.
Right from the start of Game 4 it was clear that Miami was focused on stopping the three-pointer. The Spurs attempted only 16 three-pointers, down from the 32 attempted in Game 3. Because more effort went into containing shots behind the arc, it opened up Duncan and Parker to play their game. Both saw a huge increase in their scoring output.
For Game 4, the Heat did a perfect job of countering this effect with their own aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball. LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came out swinging, scoring a combined 27 of the Heat's 29 points in the first quarter. For the game they combined for 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals and five blocks.
With Manu Ginobili performing his best impression of the 2012 NBA Finals' James Harden, it's hard to think he'll be making a return soon.
Popovich's coaching acumen notwithstanding, I can't fathom what more the Spurs can do in Game 5 to overcome the newly found rhythm of the Miami Heat.
The fatigue shown from Parker and Duncan starting late in the third quarter of Game 4 spoke volumes. Unless Green and Neal are able to step up their already-overachieving play of late to overcome the tightened defensive effort of the Heat, it's going to take the likes of Thiago Splitter and Matt Bonner playing out of their minds to beat the Game 4 version of the Miami Heat.
Your move, San Antonio.