After a dominant performance in Tuesday's Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs now find themselves up 2-1 on the Miami Heat. Miami figures to be desperate with its back against the wall in Game 4, however, and that should make for a far more competitive game.
This series has largely been about blowouts thus far. While Game 1 was tightly contested throughout, the Heat won Game 2 by 19 points and the Spurs took Game 3 by a stunning 36-point margin. It's hard to imagine another blowout occurring in Game 4, though, as these teams are so evenly matched on the surface.
Most observers considered Game 3 to be a pivotal swing game, and it was, but Game 4 is equally important. If the Heat win Game 4, then the Spurs' Game 3 victory is no longer relevant as the NBA Finals would then morph into a best-of-three series. If the Spurs win, however, then they'll be just one win away from an NBA title and the Heat will be in dire straits.
Although Game 4 won't be a must-win game for either team, the Heat probably feel as though it is for them. Going down 3-1 doesn't guarantee that they'll lose the series, but coming back from that type of deficit is extremely unlikely. The Spurs know that, so they'll throw everything they have at Miami.
Here is a breakdown of what to watch for in Game 4 of the 2013 NBA Finals, as well as a prediction of how the contest will ultimately play out.
Where: AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas
When: Thursday, June 13 at 9 p.m. ET
Heat Player to Watch: LeBron James
While it has been nice to see the Heat get some production from supporting-cast players such as Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole during this series, it is no secret that the Heat go as LeBron James goes. Some fans might argue, but James is easily the best player in the entire league and he needs to play as if he is on a game-by-game basis moving forward in order for Miami to win its second consecutive title.
LeBron simply didn't play up to his capabilities in Game 3 as he ended the night with just 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. James was well below 10 points for most of the night before making a few baskets in garbage time. He simply couldn't hit a jumper to save his life, and he wasn't exactly effective on the defensive end either, according to Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld.
LeBron James was a -32 tonight, which is the worst +/- he has had in ANY game in his NBA career (regular season or postseason).— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 12, 2013
Considering the fact that LeBron played 39 minutes on Tuesday and the Heat lost by 36 points, his terrible plus-minus rating doesn't come as a big shock, but it's certainly unacceptable. Nobody realizes that more than James as he knows he has to be better in all facets of the game as the NBA Finals progress:
LeBron James on averaging 16.3 points in Finals: "I gotta do more. It’s just that simple. I gotta do more both offensively and defensively."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 12, 2013
If the Heat are going to win Game 4 and even this series once again, James must play like he has all season long prior to the NBA Finals. That means he needs to score around 25 points, get his teammates involved and hit the glass as well. If LeBron does that, Miami should be fine.
Spurs Player to Watch: Danny Green
While LeBron's struggles in the NBA Finals have been surprising, the stellar play of Spurs guard Danny Green has arguably been even more shocking. Green was a steady contributor for the Spurs during the regular season and he has carved out a niche for himself on the team, but he generally isn't viewed as a guy who can take games over from a scoring standpoint.
That is precisely what Green did in Game 3, however, as he scored a game-high 27 points and hit seven of the nine three-pointers he attempted. With James struggling on the other side, Green stepped up in a big game and delivered the performance of his career. Green, who was LeBron's teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers, even surprised himself as he thoroughly outplayed James in Game 3:
Danny Green on outscoring his former teammate LeBron James in the NBA Finals: "Never thought in a million years that would happen."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 12, 2013
It's hard to imagine Green going off in Game 4 like he did on Tuesday, but getting some type of production out of him will be key for San Antonio. His outside shooting along with fellow guard Gary Neal kept the Heat honest in Game 3 and opened up space for everyone else on the floor. He'll try to do something similar on Thursday.
Key Matchup: Heat Bigs vs. Spurs Bigs
This series is extremely intriguing because of all the little matchups that are going on at any given time on the floor, but the key matchup for Game 4 is very simple. It comes down to Miami's bigs holding the Spurs' bigs at bay.
It is no secret that the Spurs have a major size and physicality advantage over the Heat down low, but Miami needs to get some production out of its bigs and it needs to be better when it comes to rebounding.
The Spurs dominated the Heat on the glass in Game 3 as they grabbed 52 rebounds as opposed to Miami's 36. Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter were particularly proficient, although the Spurs got everyone in on the act. LeBron and Chris Bosh both reached double digits in rebounds, but the rest of the team was pretty much non-existent in that area. It won't be easy, but guys like Udonis Haslem and especially Chris Andersen need to make a bigger impact in Game 4.
Also, the Heat got to the free-throw line just 10 times on Tuesday, and that is unacceptable. Miami has to make a concerted effort to attack San Antonio's interior players offensively in an effort to get to the charity stripe. Also, it will force Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to rotate his bigs more often and that could help Miami in the rebounding department.
Will the Heat win Game 4?
As tough as it is to pick against the Spurs after how they performed in Game 3, it's very difficult to imagine the Heat going down 3-1 in this series. Miami tends to play inspired basketball when it faces adversity, just as it did in Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Heat players fully realize the situation that they're in and they won't allow themselves to fall behind 3-1. Look for LeBron to refocus and come out firing on Thursday as the Heat come away with a 98-92 victory.
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