Now that the Miami Heat have pulled back into a tie with the San Antonio Spurs, the drama should only increase in these final games of the 2014 NBA playoffs.
The stakes were already extremely high when the Finals began; this is the first time two teams have battled for a title in back-to-back years since the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz faced off at the end of Chicago's dynastic reign.
After Game 1 and its AC shenanigans, the Spurs had the edge to further solidify their own legacy, looking to add a fifth championship in 15 years. But Miami has plenty of historical stake as well, questing for the first NBA three-peat champion since Phil Jackson's Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James took over in Game 2, and the Heat eked out a road win before the series shifted to Miami. Now the Spurs have to play in unfriendly confines; how Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and company respond will join the Finals' first two games in the annals as an instant classic.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel|
|Tuesday, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Thursday, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tuesday, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Friday, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Source: NBA.com *If necessary|
If Miami wants to keep up its success and take advantage of home court, the Heat are going to have to get production from all corners of their roster.
That might seem counterintuitive; LeBron is the best player on the planet, and while Dwyane Wade has been playing a cut below star form of late, Chris Bosh has stretched San Antonio's defense and made big plays when Miami has needed them. The conventional wisdom would be that Miami would be best suited to take advantage of those talents first and foremost.
But the Spurs are too smart and too deep to allow three Miami players to do all the damage themselves. If the guys surrounding the Big Three don't pull their weight, San Antonio can clamp down harder on the more dangerous options.
For that reason, Rashard Lewis has transformed this postseason from aging afterthought to NBA Finals starter and a vital cog to Miami's strategy.
The Heat's small-ball strategy requires a power forward who can do two things: hit threes and bang bodies with a big guy on the other end. Doing so creates space for James and Wade to attack the lane offensively, while it allows LeBron to conserve energy on defense by guarding a smaller man.
At age 34 and in his 16th NBA season, Lewis was not the most likely candidate to do that job. He's always been a shooting threat, but his stroke has slowed over the years, and low-post defense has never been his forte.
He's making it work, though. Lewis dropped 14 points in Game 2, and neither Tiago Splitter nor Boris Diaw were able to exploit him much when he matched up against them.
San Antonio needs more from them. Both Splitter and Diaw are solid on the boards and very effective passers for their size—Diaw especially, with his point-forward off-the-bounce game—but they combined for just nine points on 4-of-12 shooting in the loss.
Game 1 was a different story. Diaw made just one basket, but Splitter dropped 14 and was one of five Spurs to finish in double digits as San Antonio won by 15; only Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili did so in the following game.
The Spurs played Miami tight and only lost by two at home, but that's not a sustainable scoring distribution in this series. Splitter's Game 1 outburst was more of an exception, but Danny Green needs to get his shooting groove back from that fourth quarter, and Kawhi Leonard needs to stay out of foul trouble and make a positive impact.
In Game 3, facing Miami's home crowd for the first time in these Finals, the Spurs will be facing too many questions to immediately answer them all. If they don't start making corrections, however, Miami will take control of this series thereafter.
Game 3 prediction: Heat 94, Spurs 89