The 2014 NBA Finals are now tied up at one game apiece, suggesting the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat could be on a collision course for a second straight seven-game showdown.
Tuesday's Game 3 serves as a crossroads for this Finals rematch.
Should the Spurs pull off an upset in South Beach, they will apply serious pressure on the two-time reigning NBA champions to hold home court at AmericanAirlines Arena in the next contest. However, should the Heat take care of business, they have the chance to go up 3-1 before traveling back to San Antonio for Game 5.
Miami holds most of the momentum, coming off a 98-96 road victory at the AT&T Center to avoid falling into a difficult 0-2 hole.
The key will be for coach Erik Spoelstra's squad not to suffer a letdown, but the Heat will have to stave off a formidable foe whose championship window is closing.
Here is a look at the TV schedule for Tuesday's action, along with a prediction as to how Game 3 will play out.
|San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
Game 3 Prediction
Cramps plagued Heat superstar LeBron James in the opening game, but he responded with 35 points in Game 2 to drive Miami to a victory.
Mike Greenberg of ESPN agreed with the sentiment expressed by TNT's Charles Barkley and Bleacher Report's Howard Beck (video above):
I agree with Charles Barkley. If the air conditioning worked, the #Heat would be up 2-zip and thinking sweep.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) June 9, 2014
One of the most welcome developments to come with Miami's critical win was Chris Bosh's clutch play down the stretch.
James found him for a corner three-pointer late, and Bosh flashed the aggressiveness that can make him even more dynamic by driving and dishing to Dwyane Wade, whose layup put the game out of reach.
While San Antonio has the perceived advantage in the frontcourt with the likes of Tim Duncan, Bosh's versatility and evolution as a player may be somewhat underrated. ESPN Marc Stein alluded to that notion in his analysis:
In Chris Bosh's first postseason w/Heat, only four of his 291 playoff shots were 3s. This postseason? 33.5 percent of his shots are triples— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 9, 2014
According to Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy, Spoelstra praised Bosh following the All-Star's 18-point performance:
He’s arguably our most important player. We’ve said that now for four years. If he’s not getting the normal opportunities and he’s not scoring or doesn’t have big rebound numbers, it seems from the outside everybody is so critical about his game. But for us he has a lot on his plate. He’s a two‑way player on both ends of the court. He has to facilitate and space the floor, and he has to find opportunities to be aggressive. It’s a tough balance. He’s versatile enough and important enough for us that he’s been able to find that.
This number from ESPN Stats & Info implies that the Spurs essentially have to win either Game 3 or 4 on the road to have a true chance at the Larry O'Brien Trophy:
Heat: won 13 straight playoff games following a loss— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2014
However, the margin between winning and losing in the Finals is so slim, particularly with two familiar adversaries who have kept their nuclei intact from last year's championship clash.
There will be as much incentive as ever for Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to defeat the Heat in their own building.
Jimmy Spencer of Fox Sports alluded to a key stretch in Game 2 that could have very well sparked the Spurs to a 2-0 series lead:
I believe the #Spurs would have gone on to win if they hit just three of those four consecutive missed free throws last night.— Jimmy Spencer (@JimmySpencerNBA) June 9, 2014
ABC's Sage Steele saw the parallels between the Heat capitalizing on that situation and how they exploited Indiana in the conference finals:
For all the star power and apparent breaks Miami has boasted in its current run, Spoelstra deserves some serious credit for his ability to make adjustments coming off losses.
That's evident in that his team hasn't lost two consecutive postseason games since the 2012 conference finals.
Until Game 2's downfall, the Spurs hadn't lost at home since their opening-round playoff battle with the Dallas Mavericks. Bouncing back with a quick turnaround on the road will be tough, especially with all the positivity the Heat have going for them.
First Take personality Stephen A. Smith summed up the dynamic of these Finals well:
When the game—and possibly the season as well as a run at a three-peat—was on the line in San Antonio, James rose to the occasion with 14 third-quarter points. His explosiveness and ability to create offense out of nothing are traits San Antonio doesn't have, which was evident in its stagnation in half-court sets toward the end of Game 2.
How will the rest of the NBA Finals play out?
The Heat will lock in defensively, get better performances from their role players in Miami and roll to a rather decisive Game 3 triumph.
Prediction: Heat 106, Spurs 94
Game 1 saw San Antonio throw perhaps its best punch—and it came without James on the court for its fourth-quarter offensive explosion.
When the Spurs couldn't close out Game 2 with it well in their grasp, they truly lost out on a golden opportunity. That will carry over into Game 3, but beyond then, they will be fighting for their playoff lives.
It is critical for Miami to maintain its focus. James, Wade and Bosh have done an extraordinary job of blocking out all the negativity surrounding their polarizing merger.
All they've done is get to the Finals in all four years. Keeping the dynasty talks going should be motivation enough to carry the Heat to at least a chance at winning both upcoming games at home—and yet another NBA title in the end.