Trailing the San Antonio Spurs 3-2, the Heat have no room for error. Two victories still separate them and a second straight championship, wins that would have once seemed all but certain.
Having not won back-to-back games in nearly month, Miami is attempting to break a startling trend few could have foreseen at the most crucial point of the season. The Heat were never supposed to be in an NBA Finals hole or trading victories with their opponents. Wins were supposed to flock their way.
Against the San Antonio Spurs they haven't, forcing the Heat to put their end goals on hold as they begin to fight to save their season one game at a time.
Such warfare begins in Game 6. Before they can shift their focus back to hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy above their heads once again, they need to put themselves in a position to do so by pushing this series to a Game 7.
That third victory over the San Antonio Spurs isn't going to come if the Heat don't make changes, though. Their previous efforts have put them here, on the brink of a elimination.
To stave off an empty-handed exit, they're going to have to make some immediate changes.
Guard Against the Three Ball
Initially, this was going to read "actually defend Danny Green," but that was too pointed. The way the Heat have defended the three in the finals, they need to zero in on all of San Antonio's shooters, not merely one.
For the series, the Spurs are connecting on 44.2 percent of their treys, an astronomical number when you consider the Heat held their previous three postseason opponents—Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers—to 32.5 percent shooting from deep.
San Antonio has put in at least nine deep balls through three of the first five games of the series and has only been limited to a below 40-percent clip once.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Spurs' success rate from downtown is the lack of adjustments the Heat have made. Simple things like going over screens instead of under or not losing track of the shooters moving off the ball would work wonders.
Now is when I'll draw your attention toward Mr. Deep Ball himself, Danny Green.
Already having set the record for most three-pointers in finals history (Ray Allen wasn't too happy), you would have thought the Heat might pay special attention to the man who's been killing them all series.
Late in Game 5, they weren't:
Notice all the space Dwyane Wade is giving Green. It's far too much. A swift yet deadly shooter like himself could get off two shot attempts in the time it would take Wade to close him out.
Leaving that much room opens too many realms of possibility for the Spurs. Green could look for the quick catch-and-shoot or San Antonio can use a screener as a wall Wade can't get buy in time to contest the shot, like it did in that particular play:
Almost needless to say, he drained the shot, like he has all series long.
Green is shooting 65.8 percent from beyond the arc during the finals and he's the first player in postseason history (minimum 10 games) to be converting on 50 percent of his triples with at least 100 attempts. Miami can't lose sight of him.
The same goes for Gary Neal. And Kawhi Leonard. And every other Spurs player capable of drilling threes.
Make the Most of Point-Blank Opportunities
All series, I've implored the Heat to continue attacking the basket, never thinking they would fail to convert on "easy" looks. In Game 5, the easy looks didn't go down as frequently as Miami needed them to.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Heat weren't incapable of getting shots off around the basket in Game 5. Nearly 48 percent of their field-goal attempts came near the rim (41). That's a number Erik Spoelstra can live with.
Miami's clip in those instances, however, was unacceptable in Game 5 and could prove season crippling in Game 6.
The Heat shot just 46.3 percent around the basket, which is more than 10 points below the league average. Worse yet, LeBron and Wade fared even worse.
Per Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, the two combined to go 9-of-25 around the basket (36 percent), including a 2-of-12 showing in the second half (16.7 percent).
“I think between the two of us, we probably missed 12 layups [Sunday night]—transition layups that we usually convert,” LeBron said after Game 5. “I missed a lob. I missed two layups, transition on the same possession. I know D-Wade had a few layups that we’re accustomed to making."
Those shots LeBron makes reference to need to go down for the Heat to win. Point-blank misses could have been the difference in Game 5, where Miami was outscored by 10 in the paint.
Layups can't be missed, transition opportunities cannot be squandered and seemingly easy baskets cannot turn into offensive mishaps.
It's difficult enough for the Heat to create opportunities around the rim against a jump-shot inviting Spurs defense. Failing to make the most of the ones they get could pave the way for a Game 6 letdown.
A LeBron James Takeover
Too often taking over a game is associated with a refusal to defer and a one-on-five mindset, when really it's not.
If Chris Bosh and Wade fail to show up in Game 6, LeBron may find himself battling the Spurs on his own. He'll have no choice if he doesn't receive help. But that's not the point.
No matter what type of performance the other two-thirds of the Big Three have, LeBron James needs to dominate—not butcher the Heat's once free-flowing offense or kill any and all ball movement, but take over.
Think Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics.
Down 3-2 then as well, the Heat needed a win to save their season, on Boston's home court no less. LeBron went off to the tune of 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in what was easily one of the greatest postseason outings of his career.
Which team will win Game 6?
That's the LeBron Miami needs. He can take 25 or 30 shots if he sees fit. Though he's shooting just 43.6 percent during the finals, this is the same LeBron who shot a career-high 56.5 percent from the field during the regular season. And it's the same LeBron who hit on 60 percent of his shot attempts (15-of-25) in Game 4.
Attempts to discount LeBron's importance in Game 6 are baseless. Miami looks to him to set the tone, to win basketball games. The Heat continue to rely on him to shoulder their championship burdens. Leading into the most important game of the Heat's season, that's not going to change.
Game 6 is then no time for a Magic Johnson-esque, pass-first showcase. It's time for the LeBron we saw in Game 6 against the Celtics, time for the one who showed up for Game 4 of this series.
Time for LeBron to take over like only he can.