Through four wild games, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are all tied up heading into Game 5.
After San Antonio's dramatic Game 1 win, we got three intriguing blowouts. While the victors deserve all the credit for their dominance, each of these drubbings were still close at halftime. The average margin of victory over the last three games is 23.7 points, while the average halftime lead is just 3.7 over the same span.
Both teams have been (inconsistently) very good since Game 1. On any given night, one shifts up from very good to great, and that team pulls away for the resounding win.
So who is going to step up in Game 5?
Will it be the Heat's Big Three, who finally looked like their old selves in Game 4 for the first time in seemingly ages? Will Tim Duncan and Tony Parker step up their play and lead the Spurs to execute better on both ends of the floor? Or will this be a repeat of a competitive Game 1?
We know only one thing about Game 5 for sure: There will surely be greatness on display; both teams have proven as much, and they will not leave the fans wanting in that regard.
Regardless of what the scoreboard says, Game 5 will give us some more spectacular basketball.
Time: Sunday, June 16, 8 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
Series: Spurs 1-0
Game 5 Storyline: Three-Point Shooting
With these two elite offenses in play, how their three-point shooters are utilized and how they perform will shape the complexion of this game.
A funny thing happened in Game 4—Tim Duncan suddenly saw less defenders crashing the lane than he had in prior meetings and put up 20 points. This happened because those defenders were eschewing help on the future Hall of Famer to stay home on Danny Green and Gary Neal.
Here's an even funnier thing: It worked like a charm.
That's because Green and Neal have turned the video-game sliders all the way down and knocked down 31 of 50 three-point attempts. When two role players are hitting 62 percent of their threes, you have to swallow your pride and your perception of what's real and just man up on D.
How did Miami do that in Game 4? Well, they couldn't goad the savvy Spurs to take covered treys, but they held Green and Neal to a combined 6-of-9 by limiting attempts; in this series, that felt like a win. And the Heat were able to take away San Antonio threes by finally getting some defense from its own shooters.
Miami built its lead up to 10 in the second quarter while Shane Battier was on the floor and Mike Miller was on the bench. Battier lost his starting spot to Miller in the Eastern Conference Finals because of his offensive woes this postseason, but he earned some minutes back due to Miller's defensive inattentiveness.
Though the Spurs made up the deficit before the half, Battier's presence was conspicuous. Though Miller was better at rotating in Game 4, everything was crisper with Battier, allowing Miami to transition from defense to offense more effectively.
This series has been a case study on how crucial role players can be.
Series Star So Far: Dwyane Wade
All right, Game 4 was Dwyane Wade's first star-like performance since the regular season, but we have to explore it further.
Hobbled with a bruised right knee for two months now, Wade's 31 points were his most in a regulation game since February 23. And his only other six-steal game of the season came on March 10. Needless to say, Game 4 was a long time coming for Dwyane Wade.
So what finally changed for him? The defensive attention, surprisingly enough, actually started picking up in San Antonio's Game 3 rout.
Wade has been one of the Heat's worst offenders on slow and sloppy defensive rotations in this series, and Game 3 wasn't much different in terms of stopping the ball. He did, however, figure out how to pick his spots and be opportunistic against the Spurs' ball movement, coming away with four steals.
On offense, Wade finally got into an attacking rhythm for the first time in this series. Both LeBron James and Wade settled for the jumpers San Antonio eagerly gave them in Game 3, looking at the bodies clogging the lane and jacking up long twos rather than drive through it and try to make something happen.
Both Heat stars came out strong in Game 4, getting into the paint and maneuvering around and through defenders to put the ball in the hoop. Wade's steals and Miami's block party helped, too, as the Heat turned their defensive successes into aggressive fast-break points.
We'll see if Wade can actually sustain this success. The scoring likely will slip, but his defensive attention seems like a trait he has learned over the course of the series that should stick.
Projected Starting Lineups for Game 5
Miami: Mario Chalmers, PG; Dwyane Wade, SG; LeBron James, SF; Udonis Haslem, PF; Chris Bosh, C
San Antonio: Tony Parker, PG; Danny Green, SG; Kawhi Leonard, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Tiago Splitter, C
Heat Injury Report
Spurs Injury Report
Heat Will Win If...
They can replicate a winning performance.
Since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, the Heat have had a double-digit edge in each of their wins, but have followed up each with a loss.
Coach Pop and Frank Vogel deserve some credit for that. Whenever Miami has figured anything out on offense, the great defensive minds behind the Spurs and Pacers have responded in kind.
Adjusting where the help on LeBron is coming from, stopping the ball in the midrange area, staying closer to shooters in the corners—whatever the requisite change has been, these coaches have identified it and made it, and Spoelstra's players seem caught off guard every time.
Only in the past year has Spo started to get his hard-earned praise as a strategist and not just as a babysitter of superstars. However, it might be the babysitting end of things that is giving him problems now.
Though Spoelstra has tried to get Wade and Bosh going from the tip since the Indiana series, Wade has only come through when he has been criticized for his passive play—after Game 6 against Indy and Game 3 against the Spurs—something he must have heard twice as harshly from his coach.
It appears Spoelstra has his players attention in bad times, but they have come out disjointed in good times. The Heat are going to have to win two in a row at some point in this series; let's see if their heads are in it.
Spurs Will Win If...
Tiago Splitter can stay on the floor.
The Spurs' second big man has been out of his element against the small-ball Heat. It has been in San Antonio's favor to either go small as well or to sacrifice Splitter's defense for the floor-stretching ability of Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner.
Splitter has no scoring ability outside the paint and has accounted for just 23 total points against the Heat, who haven't let him get any easy points.
With that in mind, Diaw's and Bonner's offensive potential is a substantial addition over the Brazilian big man in this series. At least, that seemed to be the thinking in Game 4, as Splitter's minutes dropped from the usual 24 to 14.
Unsurprisingly, taking 10 minutes away from San Antonio's interior defensive tandem of Duncan and Splitter makes it much easier for James and Wade to get to the rim and for Chris Bosh to pull down rebounds (he had 20 points and 13 boards in Game 4).
If Pop can trust his defenders to rotate to the right shooters, he can afford to put Splitter back inside. It was the threat of the three that opened the lane for Miami rather than the three itself. Going big against small is a risk for San Antonio, but the interior security is a significant reward.
We're finally going to get a single-digit result again, but the Heat aren't going to steal two straight in San Antonio.
Based on what we have seen this postseason, the odds of Wade and Bosh repeating their sterling performances are slim—especially since the Spurs will now be sure to prepare for them.
This just seems like the state of the 2013 NBA Finals—Pop makes a move that beats Spo, Spo makes a move that beats Pop, and back and forth and on and on.
Now that the Heat are working out some of their more deep-seated problems with the Big Three, that variance should subside somewhat. That will give Miami a nice advantage when they return home for Games 6 and 7, but Game 5 is still on the Spurs' turf.
In a 2-2-1-1-1, the Heat probably ride what they worked out in Game 4 to another win. But you don't give Gregg Popovich and the Spurs three days to prep for a home game.
The blowouts finally stop here, but the back-and-forth continues.
Spurs 97, Heat 89