When the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat tip off for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Miami will have to figure out how to adjust following an unexpected drubbing.
In Game 1, LeBron James' cramping turned a tightly contested battle into a double-digit San Antonio victory. The Heat gutted out a two-point Game 2 win at full strength. As the series shifted to Miami, where the Heat had been undefeated this postseason, it looked like the two-time defending champs had the clear edge.
Then the Spurs dropped 71 points in the first half on 76 percent shooting, running away with what was ultimately a 111-92 win. While the Heat seemed like they were in control before, San Antonio has now regained home-court advantage for the series to go along with a 2-1 lead.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel|
|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|
Game 4 Odds (via Odds Shark): San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat (-4.5)
So as the Heat look to even the series again, why does Vegas like them even more in Game 4?
Prior to Game 3, Odds Shark put the line at minus-3.5 for the Heat to win—basically crediting home-court advantage and otherwise considering it a toss-up. Now that Miami got embarrassed in front of their own fans, the Game 4 spread favors the Heat by a point more.
If that seems counterintuitive, there is some logic behind it.
As Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk points out, the Heat have excelled at bouncing back following postseason losses in the Big Three era.
The Heat are 13-0 following their last 13 playoff losses – forming a streak of 47 straight postseason games without consecutive losses. That ranks third all-time, and Miami could tie for second by the end of the 2014 Finals against the Spurs:
- 54, Boston Celtics (1962-66)
- 52, Chicago Bulls (1990-93)
- 47, Miami Heat (2012-14)
Due to Miami's immense talent and Erik Spoelstra's ability to tweak his strategy mid-series, the Heat have consistently avoided back-to-back losses.
That is the macro view of this situation. The micro view involves how Miami will respond to the specific problems San Antonio poses in Game 4.
Let's start with the good news: Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are going to miss a few more shots next time.
Normally most dangerous spotting up beyond the arc, Leonard and Green both made closing-out defenders pay, getting inside and finishing around the rim. That is not to say all their looks were easy, though. The Heat challenged the young Spurs wings, but they kept sinking shots they do not often take—let alone make.
Even without the offensive outburst, their staunch defensive play bodes well for San Antonio as the series progresses.
For the first time in this year's NBA Finals, Leonard was able to guard James without fouling, like he did throughout the 2013 series. If that becomes the norm again, San Antonio's defense becomes that much more dangerous.
Of course, Danny Green nabbing five steals a game would be nice too, but he is not going to keep doing that. Still, he can punish slower Miami swingmen with his athleticism, and the Heat will have to account for that going forward.
The biggest problem will be the matchup at point guard.
That positional showdown has turned into a nightmare for the Heat, as Mario Chalmers has delivered one of the most consistently poor performances in Finals history.
An important part of Miami's strategy in Game 2 involved playing James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen without either Chalmers or Norris Cole on the floor, trusting LeBron to handle the ball and mark Tony Parker. With the weak Heat link removed, Miami was able to lean on a stronger five-man unit and steal the road win.
Then Gregg Popovich adjusted in Game 3, playing Parker and Patty Mills together more so that Miami was forced to play a point guard again. Outside of James, no Heat player is quick enough for the task, so either Chalmers or Cole had to remain on the floor.
Other than encouraging Chalmers and hoping he becomes a useful player again, there is not a ton Spo can do about that. He is limited by the makeup of his roster in this situation. He will have to ride the hot hand, relatively speaking, from here on out, and that is not a promising prospect.
Parker and Mills blitzed Miami with their speed—the one element that, in the half court, they are not at all equipped to defend. Unless Spoelstra can get Chalmers to contain Parker and reestablish himself as a three-point threat, Miami's poised to snap its back-to-back streak.
Spurs 106, Heat 98