Critical Keys for Miami Heat to Save Their Season in Game 6
Twenty-seven-game win streak.
Top-seeded team in the NBA.
Expectations of an easy romp to a second straight championship.
All that is forgotten now.
It's about doing what their core could not do in 2011, after returning to Miami with a 3-2 deficit against the Dallas Mavericks: finding their game in time to extend the series.
How does Dwyane Wade see the situation?
"We're going to see if we're a better ballclub and if we're better prepared for this moment," he said. "Everything happens for a reason. And this is not a bad reason at all, to go home for Game 6 on your home floor."
Yet there are reasons for concern. Miami hasn't often resembled the regular-season juggernaut that had people talking about a historic run. Some of that's been due to the better competition, and the Spurs have certainly proven a worthy challenge.
Some of that's squarely on the Heat.
So what needs to happen now to get the series to seven?
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post.)
Not Counting on Crowd for Energy
Athletes in the aftermath of defeat say the darnedest things.
"I think it's pretty obvious that we didn't give the same defensive effort that we had in Game 4, and they picked us apart," said Chris Bosh, generally the most honest of the Miami Heat players, after the San Antonio Spurs scored 114 points in Game 5.
At the risk of picking apart one quote too much, how can effort possibly be an issue in Game 5 of the NBA Finals?
You'd figure that Miami would find the necessary motivation for Game 6, considering that the season is at stake and legacies are squarely on the line.
Still, if the Heat count on their crowd to push them along, they might find themselves down too much for the fans to make much of a difference.
As it is, the Heat diehards are edgy, considering they've watched their team, which won 27 straight at one point, fail to win two straight in nearly a month. So the crowd, while lively at the start, might lose steam if the Heat struggle early.
It's up the Heat to get going on their own, starting at the defensive end, to avoid the deficits that have plagued them throughout the playoffs—especially in this series.
As Dwyane Wade acknowledged, "They continue to have great starts. We continue to start slow."
If that continues, the season likely ends in disappointment.
Passion, but Also Poise, from Dwyane Wade
The old Dwyane Wade came back in Games 4 and 5 of this series.
That's mostly been a good thing, as the Miami Heat guard has scored 32 and 25 points, respectively, after failing to produce at least 20 in all but two previous playoff games.
He has been on the attack from the open, shooting 25 and 22 times.
All that is fine, and it's largely necessary for the Heat to survive the San Antonio Spurs, especially when Wade, often handling as a primary point guard, tallies 10 assists as he did in Game 5.
But he did some things in Game 5 that were a bit troublesome, too, including one that has been part of his repertoire for too long:
Arguing with the officials.
Frustrated that he wasn't getting whistles, especially on missed layups, Wade lingered too long in the frontcourt to make a case, while the Spurs got numbers on the other end. In one notable case, that led to one of Danny Green's six three-pointers.
Wade appears to have tamed his knee soreness, at least for now, with pregame stimulation, in-game heat packs and shorter rests so he can stay loose.
He needs to tame his temper and not get away from his game.
Just listen to his comments about the Spurs: "This is the kind of team that I feel capitalizes on any mistake you make. So if you're half a second late, they capitalize on it."
He needs to think of that the next time he wastes that half-second challenging a call.
Getting Passable Point Guard Play
Erik Spoelstra wasn't the one screaming at Mario Chalmers during Game 5.
No, that was Chris Bosh, from two seats to the left on the bench.
Still, it was Spoelstra who spoke loudest about his dissatisfaction with Chalmers—as well as Norris Cole—with 7:40 left in the second quarter.
“Everybody on their team was taking turns beating us off the dribble,” Spoelstra said.
Mostly at the point of attack.
That's when Spoelstra replaced Chalmers not with Cole, but with Mike Miller, choosing to play without either of his traditional point guards until the last five seconds of the half. During that time, the Miami Heat outscored the San Antonio Spurs by a 26-17 count.
Then Spoelstra put Cole back in to defend Tony Parker, only to watch Parker drive for an uncontested layup.
It was that sort of night for the Heat's feast-or-famine point guards, with the Heat much better without either. Chalmers was 2-of-10, making him 4-of-19 with 13 points and 10 turnovers since his masterful 19-point, no-turnover performance in Game 2.
Cole was worse, a minus-14 in just seven minutes.
No one is expecting them to stop Tony Parker, who had 26 points on a sore hamstring in Game 5.
But it helps if one of them gives him just a little trouble.
Showing Proper Respect for Danny Green
When Gregg Popovich sent four of his players home from Orlando in late November, rather than having them accompany the team to South Florida to face the Miami Heat, much was made of the absences of three of them.
After all, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are long-time stalwarts of the San Antonio Spurs organization.
But the fourth guy?
Well, that was Danny Green, who had been released four times, three of them by the Spurs, during his short NBA career. There wasn't much talk about him then.
There's plenty now, and that's largely the Heat's fault.
"Give him credit," Dwyane Wade said.
"He's trying to seize the moment, and he's doing great for his team so far," LeBron James said.
That's an understatement. Green, after hitting 25-of-38 three-point shots, is the leading candidate for Finals MVP. And while he has certainly made some challenging ones, he's also made plenty without a defender's hand in sight. He is 18-of-24 on uncontested shots behind the arc.
"I can't believe he's still open at this moment of the series," Tony Parker said.
He has been, in part because the Heat have allowed it by breaking down in other areas.
"I've been getting lucky," Green said. "Our transition helps us, our pace. Tony penetrating and Manu (Ginobili) penetrating, making the defense collapse is the reason why I've been getting open."
It's up to everyone on the Heat to get that fixed.
LeBron James Finding His Form
That was the word most associated with LeBron James' growth this season, the quality he identified as his primary offensive objective. He shot a career-high 56.5 percent from the field, taking more and more of the shots he wanted with little that a defender could do to deter him.
At one point, he set an NBA record with six straight games of at least 30 points on at least 60 percent shooting. He shot under 50 percent in only 12 games all season, and he didn't shoot worse than 52.6 percent in any game in February.
He is now shooting under 50 percent for the postseason, at 49.3 percent.
That's hardly horrible, but he's topped 50 percent in only one of five games of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. In the Game 4 win, he filled the stat sheet, most notably with his 15-of-25 shooting for 33 points.
But LeBron heads into Game 6 after an 8-of-22 performance in Sunday's loss. In that one, he repeatedly appeared befuddled by the bulky Boris Diaw, often shooting over the top of the veteran from France. He missed seven of the eight shots he took with Diaw as the primary defender.
Without question, James has had to bear the burden of inconsistent teammates and challenging defensive responsibilities. He's also not getting the calls that he once did.
But if he gets 22 shots again in Game 6, he needs to get more than 25 points.
"I have to come up big, for sure in Game 6," James said.
Starting with his efficiency.