Biggest Concerns for Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs Entering Critical Game 7
All there is for the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs to fear in Game 7 is themselves.
Having seen these two teams battle out it for six grueling and, at times, unwatchable games, we know that either outfit is not above getting in their own way.
Blowouts, nail-biters, injury-riddled performances—this series has had it all for both teams.
Margins of error in winner-take-all Game 7s are nonexistent, though. Issues that were slight concerns in the first few games are now potentially crippling.
Perfection is what the Heat and Spurs will be striving for when they take the floor for the NBA Finals' first Game 7 since 2010. To be flawless, to win the title either franchise can now taste, the most pressing of conflicts must be left in the rear-view mirror.
The team that proves capable of rising above all adversity most will be the one that emerges from Game 7 victorious, Larry O'Brien Trophy in hand.
Dwyane Wade's Knee
Nothing has been easy for Dwyane Wade since the postseason began.
Battling a bum knee, Wade is currently posting career-playoff lows in points (15.5) and minutes (35.4). Relatively strong performances in Games 4 and 5 have helped bolster his series average to 19 points on 46.7 percent shooting, but his inability to remain a productive fixture has been more than apparent.
In Game 6, Wade collided with Manu Ginobili in the first half and was unable to start the third quarter. Though he returned, he stumbled through the rest of the game, finishing with just 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Afterward, Wade admitted that his surgically repaired left knee isn't in the best condition, putting Miami in a difficult situation for Game 7.
Wade is going to play. And he has to. He's Dwyane Wade. He's never allowed himself to completely succumb to postseason injuries before, and he's not going to start in Game 7, when a championship is on the line.
South Beach's task then becomes accounting for his inconsistencies.
Other players like Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and even LeBron James will be asked to do more on the offensive end if Wade doesn't have it going. And there's a good chance he won't have it going.
Grimacing through most of Game 6, Wade played fewer than nine total minutes in the fourth quarter and overtime, attempting two shots and missing both. With the game on the line and Miami's season in the balance, he didn't have it.
If he didn't have it then, there's a (strong) possibility he won't have it Game 7 either. There's also a real chance he hurts Miami, the way he has for most of the series.
At which point coach Erik Spoelstra must make some tough decisions. Should Wade be ineffective yet again, he'll need to limit his minutes even further, then find someone who can at least begin to fill the void Wade's injuries have created.
Physically restricted or not, Wade remains the second-best player on the Heat. Walking into battle not knowing which version of him you'll see and who will step up if he can't is among the most grave of concerns Miami could possibly have.
Chris Bosh's Struggles
Pointing to Bosh's Game 6 performance as encouraging is disturbing, because it wasn't.
Bosh finished with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting in what was an underwhelming offensive performance. He brought down 11 rebounds—including an offensive board that set up Allen's game-tying three late in the fourth—and had one of his better defensive outings of the series (three steals and two blocks, great help on pick-and-rolls), but the Heat need more.
An All-Star himself, the Heat should be able to look to Bosh as No. 2 when Wade isn't playing like one. Thus far, they haven't been able to.
Averaging 13.8 points and 9.2 rebounds on 49.3 percent shooting are solid finals numbers...if you're not a superstar.
Bosh fancies himself a superstar. Actually, he considers himself a future Hall of Famer.
Game 7 is the perfect time for him to (finally) play like one.
LeBron James' Late-Game Heroics
Equally as harrowing as the ambiguity behind Wade's performance are LeBron's own inconsistencies.
His late-game heroics—most notably in Game 6—are accolades for the Heat to revel in. Vanishing acts through the first three quarters are not.
Game 6 saw LeBron shoot 3-of-12 from the field through the first three quarters as the Heat headed into the fourth down 10. His 16 fourth-quarter points helped force overtime, inevitably allowing Miami to complete the come-from-behind victory, but where was that LeBron in the first, second and third quarters?
Knowing how banged up Wade is and how hot and cold (mostly cold) Bosh has been, the Heat can't afford to see LeBron traipse his way through the better part of Game 7. They need him to attack early, often and then some. No excuses.
Ensuring that he converts on the open looks he's receiving is also of extreme importance.
San Antonio has thrown a bevy of defensive schemes LeBron's way, the goal always being the same: Coax him into shooting jumpers.
To this point, LeBron has shot 29.2 percent from beyond the arc in the finals (7-of-24). If he's going to continue to shoot threes (he's taking about four a night), he must start making them.
A repeat of Game 5 when he was only 8-of-22 from the field and converted on less than half his attempts around the basket (5-of-14) is unacceptable as well.
Looks at the rim are scarce against the Spurs' confining defense. Making the most of any "easy looks" can often be the difference between a win and a loss (see Game 5).
All signs indicate that LeBron needs to take over—and do so efficiently—for a full four quarters.
Back-to-Back Wins Are Hard to Come By
Remember when the Heat lost two games in a row? Neither do the rest of us (it was January), a streak that has been well documented throughout these finals.
Six games in, that trend has held true. Miami has lost three games, and each time, it has responded with a victory. But it has yet to answer a win with another win.
The Heat haven't won back-to-back games in nearly month, stemming back to a Game 5 victory over the Chicago Bulls and a Game 1 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Perpetuating that trend isn't something the Heat are interested in. And yet, they have.
Patterns like these are always eventually broken, but the Heat no longer have that kind of time. Game 7 is it, their last chance.
Responding to losses has kept their season alive. Now it's their ability to follow up a win that stands to do the same or send them to the locker room empty-handed.
San Antonio Spurs
Tony Parker's Hamstring
Tony Parker continues to battle, sometimes even successfully, but it's not always enough.
San Antonio's point man is coming off a 6-of-23 display that saw him nearly will the Spurs to a championship in the waning moments of regulation and also impede their overall performance with his deficiencies from the field.
Each of the Spurs' three losses have come when Parker has scored under 20 points, and two of their three victories have come when he eclipses that same mark, the exception being Game 3 when Gary Neal and Danny Green played like LeBron and a vintage Wade.
Not since that game has Parker allowed his injuries to keep him sidelined excessively, but his penchant of falling off in the second half is nothing short of debilitating.
He's faded down the stretch of most games, clearly exhausted from playing through pain. That the Spurs maintained a lead for so long in Game 6 with him struggling to find the bottom of the net is surprising.
Still one victory away from a title, you have to imagine Gregg Popovich won't hesitate to keep Parker on the floor. He played all but 10 minutes of the overtime thriller in Game 6, attesting to his importance to San Antonio's potential success.
To overthrow the reigning champs in Game 7, the Spurs will need Parker to play big minutes again.
Only this time, they'll need him to be a little more Game 5 and a hell of a lot less Game 6.
Danny Green's Game 6 Disappearance
No, I'm not trying to make something out of nothing.
Green has been sensational in this series. Through the first five games, he put up 18 points on 56.6 percent shooting, also connecting on a staggering 65.8 percent of his attempts from deep.
Not only did his series-long heroics help lead the Spurs to each of their three victories, but he began to garner finals MVP consideration. Seriously.
Then came Game 6.
Bosh essentially promised Green wouldn't have a big night, and he didn't.
Green went 1-of-7 from the floor (1-of-5 from deep), finishing with just three points. Defensively he was strong (especially in transition), but the Spurs have come to expect more.
With Parker still nursing an injury and Manu Ginobili remaining a wild card, the Spurs look to Green to provide an additional offensive spark. For the most part, he has; in Game 6, he didn't.
A similar effort in Game 7 could be the driving force behind San Antonio's first finals loss of the Duncan era.
Playing Game 7 on the Road
Coach Pop's players are disciplined enough that they won't be psyched out by playing on the road, but there's no use pretending clinching a championship away from home can't be daunting.
Short of the Miami faithful leaving much, much earlier than they did in Game 6, the Spurs are going to be playing under some hostile conditions.
They haven't lost back-to-back games during the playoffs, but this is also their first elimination game of the postseason.
Win-or-go-home situations aren't foreign territory to seasoned teams like the Spurs. Parker and Duncan and Ginobili and Pop all know how to win under these conditions (see 2005 against the Detroit Pistons).
Which team will win Game 7?
Winning on the road in the playoffs, however, is difficult to begin with. Game 7s are a different breed, and the Heat aren't your normal, run-of-the-mill team.
Coming off a Game 6 heartbreaker that saw these Spurs come seconds away from an NBA championship complicates matters even further. Their resolve will be tested like it hasn't been in these playoffs, like it hasn't been in years.
Let's see if that team dinner of theirs following Game 6 paid off.
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