The Spurs need just one win in the next two games to claim their fifth title in the Duncan/Popovich era. But they will have to come into Miami, where the Heat are 45-7 this season (including the playoffs). The Heat haven't lost back-to-back games since January, while the Spurs haven't lost with a healthy Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili since mid-December. As the Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton movie suggests, something's gotta give.
This game will be decided by the adjustments made by both the Heat's Erik Spoelstra and the Spurs' Gregg Popovich as much as it will by the players on the court. Here's what Miami needs to do to force a Game 7...and what San Antonio can do to win the O'Brien Trophy tonight:
Adjustments Miami Needs to Make
1) Mike Miller Can't Be in the Starting Lineup Tonight
After the 109-93 shellacking the Spurs took in Game 4, Popovich took a chance. He started Ginobili at shooting guard and moved Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to small and power forward, respectively. Ginobili hasn't started all season, and he promptly responded to the challenge by having one of his best games of the playoffs (24 points, eight assists).
Miller couldn't keep up with Manu defensively, allowing Ginobili to weave his way into the lane for his trademark off-balance layups, jumpers and floaters. Manu couldn't keep up with the speedy Norris Cole off the bench, and he expended a lot of energy chasing Ray Allen around those picks and screens. Now, Miami must counter by either going small (starting Ray Allen at shooting guard) or putting power forward Udonis Haslem back on the floor to start the game.
2) Don't Let the Spurs Get into the Open Floor
San Antonio was supposed to be the group of slow, boring old guys in this series. So, how come we saw plays where, after a made basket by the Heat, Parker was able to run downcourt and get the ball to Duncan in the paint with just three seconds having gone by?
"[The Spurs have] an efficient attacking point guard in Parker," says ESPN.com's Michael Wallace. "Even on a gimpy hamstring, [Parker] is exposing the Heat's position of greatest inconsistency."
While the Heat need LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Haslem and Chris Andersen to contend with the Spurs' Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw down low, they also need Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Dwyane Wade to avoid the Spurs' ability to push the ball into transition at will and take advantage instead of their own team's superb half-court offense.
Adjustments San Antonio Must Make
1. More Minutes for Splitter and Diaw
The Spurs make their money off of their high-percentage shooting, and they have given the Heat fits because of their ability to make three-pointers seemingly at will. However, "small ball" won't work all game against the Heat. If the game is close in the second half, LeBron will try to drive to the paint and force the issue by drawing contact.
It would be beneficial for the Spurs to put big guys like Splitter and Diaw in the game for extended minutes to body LeBron up and make sure he feels it when he goes to the free-throw line (which he'll end up doing a few times in Game 6), rather than being able to barrel through the lane for easy three-point plays against Gary Neal or Ginobili. By the way, Diaw's ability to shoot the long ball on offense makes him a valuable asset on both sides (38.5 percent in the regular season).
2. Pound the Ball Down Low to Duncan, Splitter and Leonard
The Heat will be looking to get high-percentage points in the paint and trips to the free-throw line, so why shouldn't the Spurs? We all know they can shoot threes by this point, so the Spurs should take advantage of the Heat's undersized centers and forwards by getting off as many close shots as they can.
"We look forward to the challenge," James said after Game 5, as reported by Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears. "We've been here before...We've got a chance to do something special."
While that may very well be true, Miami needs to come out with efficiency and intensity right out of the gate during tonight's game, because in Game 6 of the finals, there is no longer any room for mistakes.