The Miami Heat have played themselves into a must-win situation in the NBA Finals. Again.
Dwyane Wade sounded the alarm prior to Game 2, calling it a "must-win" for a Miami team that dropped Game 1 at home. Following a 36-point trampling at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, the Heat are right back where they didn't want to be–behind.
Miami can't lose Game 4, LeBron James can't lose Game 4. One more loss and the Heat are done, finished, kaput. The most idealistic of optimists can't even argue otherwise or ignore the insurmountable hole the Heat will have dug themselves into.
Eight teams in NBA history have ever successfully came back from a 3-1 series deficit and won the series, the most recent one being the 2006 Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns. Exactly zero of those eight comebacks took place in the finals.
History is made to be broken, but in this instance, it's not here, not now and most certainly not against the Spurs. They're already up 2-1 and that's with their Big Three combining for an average of 32 points per game, or less than 11 points per player.
Should the Heat trail 3-1 to that, to a Spurs core that hasn't even played their best basketball, to a hobbled Tony Parker, they're not going to lose. They're going to lose, in Game 5 or 6 or 7, take your pick. And once they lose the series, their visions of prepotency wont just be endangered, they'll be extinct.
I'm not sensationalizing an already overly scrutinized topic either. For the Heat, this is their reality.
When LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh banded conscriptions, these are the standards they agreed to be held to. One championship isn't enough or even close to it. Three finals appearances in successive years seem like plenty, but they're not. A single, solitary title in three tries isn't dynasty worthy nor is it capable of bulwarking the Big Three from the malicious blitz that will follow a Game 4 loss and, inevitably, another finals exit.
Win or lose Game 4 and then the series, the Heat have three consecutive finals appearances to their name. That's beyond pretty damn impressive.
They also have that one title to show for their efforts, the lone ring LeBron has the privilege of wearing.
Then again, the Heat were never supposed to be in this kind of trouble, engaging in what is a struggle. Again and again we're left to dwell on the musings of a 25-year-old LeBron.
"Once the games start, it's going to be easy," LeBron said back in 2010.
I can't tell you how many times I've quoted that throughout these playoffs, mostly because I refuse to count that high. That line, like the "not one, not two, not three..." forecast which preceded it, is etched in my brain.
Plagued by youthful exuberance and a carking ego at the time, LeBron wouldn't be as pretentious now. Three years older and wiser, he understands it was never going to be easy. And we need to understand that he wasn't necessarily guaranteeing eight or more championships. He was a kid, acting like a kid.
LeBron wasn't the only one channeling his inner-unfounded enthusiasm either. The NBA was abuzz when he joined Bosh and Wade in Miami. Their pairing marked the beginning of a new regime, an impending dynasty.
Most tend to get caught up in what LeBron said, when really his words don't mean as much anymore. He can plead adolescent-like ignorance. That's completely and utterly (and preferably) acceptable. But neither he nor anyone else can change what the Heat were supposed to do, regardless of what he said.
Their presences next to each other, on the same team, working toward a common goal said it all. They were together to win multiple titles, to forge the next great dynasty, the same conceptual empire they'll seek to protect in Game 4.
In some ways, this is the Heat's last stand before their definitive last stand. Drop Game 4 and there will still be a Game 5. Lose to the Spurs and there will still be a next season. LeBron will wake up in the morning and the sky won't have fallen.
Everything Miami stands for will have.
Now for the Heat, these NBA Finals are their only chance. Winning next season won't matter, not even kind of, not even sort of.
One year from now—assuming the Heat don't trade Bosh or Wade—LeBron will be courted by any team with cap space, Wade will be pushing 33 and Bosh, well he'll still be Bosh. Other than misplaced loyalty (and Micky Arison's deep pockets), there won't be anything keeping them together.
Which team will win Game 4 and ultimately be crowned champion?
Winning now changes that. Playing for a third championship in four years is far different than competing for a second. It's dynasty-esque; more fulfilling than anything. LeBron could still leave afterward, but the more alive his dreams are, the more apt he'll be to staying where he is, the more likely it is the Heat stay together.
"I'm not just up here blowing smoke at none of these fans," LeBron assured in 2010. "That's not what I'm about; I'm about business. And we [LeBron, Bosh and Wade] believe we can win multiple championships if we take care of business and do it the right way."
LeBron may have changed, but those beliefs from three years ago have not. His and Miami's end goal remains the same.
The allure of contending for those multiple championships, for that dynasty doesn't come without a championship now. And a title now won't come or even be possible without a win in Game 4. So LeBron and the Heat must win Game 4 to prolong the life of all they wish to accomplish now, later and beyond.