When the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat step on the floor for Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, one team will look to build off its dazzling performance in Game 3 while the other has to make serious adjustments to stay in the series.
The Spurs had one of the great performances in Finals history during Game 3, particularly in the first half with 71 points on 75.8 percent shooting, en route to a 111-92 victory to take a 2-1 series lead.
While that doesn't say good things about Miami's defense, the Heat actually cut the deficit to seven points with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter. They may be down in the series, but they are far from out.
With both teams having reasons to be confident, here are the biggest keys for the Spurs and Heat to walk away victorious in Game 4.
Where Is Mario Chalmers?
Telling a team not to run any offense through its point guard is usually pointless analysis, but the Heat are in a very precarious position, and Mario Chalmers isn't the kind of player you want controlling the ball.
Chalmers has been missing in action dating back to the Eastern Conference Finals. He hasn't scored more than five points against the Spurs and hasn't cracked double digits since Game 2 against Brooklyn.
While he wasn't a stud last year in the Finals, Josh Eberly of Dime Magazine did note the stark differences between Chalmers' performance so far.
Mario Chalmers needs to be a factor. Last year: 10.6 PPG, 40% Three point shooting This year: 3.3 PPG, 20% Three point shooting #NBAFinals— Josh Eberley (@JoshEberley) June 12, 2014
If the Heat are going to win this series, they need their role players to step up. Normally, a starting point guard isn't a role player, but with Miami's offense running through LeBron James, all Chalmers has to do is not screw up when the ball comes to him.
The Starting Five
For all the talk about the differences in depth between the Spurs and Heat, all you have to do is look at the first three games of the Finals to know that everything comes down to the starting lineups.
Which non-superstar is the key to Game 4?
The Spurs won Game 3 thanks to great balance from their starting five. Kawhi Leonard was more aggressive with the ball and scored a career-high 29 points. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Danny Green all had at least 14 points, and Boris Diaw chipped in with nine.
LeBron was the story of Game 2 with 35 points and 10 rebounds, but none of that would have mattered if Chris Bosh doesn't hit a late three-pointer. Bosh, Rashard Lewis and Dwyane Wade combined for 46 points on 16-of-29 shooting.
Both the Spurs and Heat have the ability to score a lot of points in a short amount of time, so the only question that lingers is which group will take advantage of the situation in crunch time. The Heat have the star power, but the Spurs have the balance.
The Aggressors Will Win
If we take out Game 3 as the anomaly that it likely is, unless the Spurs can replicate one of the best shooting performances in NBA Finals history, the through-line for this series has been getting to the free-throw line.
In Game 1, Miami took 11 shots from the charity stripe and lost by 15. Granted, LeBron's early exit played a role in that since he took six of the Heat's free throws, but why did Dwyane Wade only attempt two foul shots?
By contrast, the Spurs attempted 22 free throws in that Game 1 win. They came back in Game 2 with 20 attempts but only made 12 of them. Duncan and Parker missed four consecutive free-throw attempts with the team leading 87-85.
That futility certainly wasn't lost on the Spurs, who spent Wednesday at practice working on their free throws.
The Heat made 16 of their 21 free throws in Game 2, then got a huge three-pointer from Bosh to steal a win in San Antonio.
Whichever team plays more aggressive, especially in the paint, is going to walk away with a victory. Odds favor the Spurs in that regard because they have a more effective inside presence than the Heat.
LeBron has to charge the basket, as does Wade. If those two are settling for jumpers, which is what Gregg Popovich is daring them to do, it's going to be another long night in Miami.
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