Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals may just be the final time LeBron James puts on a Miami Heat uniform if he chooses to go elsewhere this offseason.
The San Antonio Spurs seized a commanding 3-1 lead with a 107-86 victory Thursday and have the two-time defending champions on the brink of elimination. In fact, 31 times in NBA Finals history a team has gone up 3-1, and 31 times that team won.
Here is the Game 5 schedule as the Spurs try to become team No. 32.
NBA Finals Game 5
Date: Sunday, June 15
Time: 8 p.m. ET
We have reached this point because the Spurs absolutely manhandled the Heat the past two contests in Miami. Bleacher Report noted just how balanced San Antonio’s attack was Thursday:
The Spurs dominate both ends of the floor again as they win Game 4 107-86! All 13 Spurs scored in the win pic.twitter.com/8xOH7JVUvA— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 13, 2014
Kawhi Leonard was absolutely brilliant (who on the Spurs wasn’t?) on both ends of the floor and had perhaps the best play of the night as two of his 20 points and one of his 14 rebounds, which was also captured by Bleacher Report:
So now that San Antonio has all of this momentum, how is Game 5 going to unfold?
It is easy to get caught up in the moment and pick the Spurs to win big. After all, they completely crushed James and company twice in a row in a hostile environment in Miami, the exact same location that the Heat beat San Antonio in Games 6 and 7 last year to win the Finals.
However, Miami looked much better in the two contests in San Antonio. Had James not gone down with cramps, the Heat could have very easily won Game 1, and they did win Game 2 to draw even in the series.
When you come into a game as the defending champions, a hostile crowd doesn’t really matter, especially when the best player in the league is on your side. Head coach Erik Spoelstra suggested as much in this postgame quote, via Ethan J. Skolnick of Turner Sports:
Spoelstra: "When we're right, we can beat anybody anywhere.... That's the only focus."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 13, 2014
All we are ultimately trying to say is don’t simply assume that the Spurs have won the title already just because they won twice in Miami.
Who wins Game 5?
Still, everything is clicking for San Antonio right now, and it is clearly the better overall team in this series. Leonard is giving James fits on the defensive end and forcing him to take contested jumpers. Even if James is hitting some of those outside shots, San Antonio would still rather have him shooting out there than slicing up the defense and creating open shots for his teammates behind the three-point line.
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out just how effective Leonard has been at pushing James away from the hoop:
LeBron James Avg Shot Distance Game 1 10.1 feet Game 2 11.5 feet Game 3 10.4 feet Game 4 18.4 feet— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 13, 2014
On the offensive side, San Antonio’s team ball movement is enough to make a high school coach who loves fundamentals cry. The ball is simply swinging from end to end on every possession, and an open look at the rim or behind the three-point line is almost always the result.
Tas Melas of NBA TV illustrated how incredible that ball movement has been:
The Spurs passed the ball 113 more times than the Heat tonight (380-267). Don't know if I can comprehend that stat. #NBAFinals— Tas Melas (@TasMelas) June 13, 2014
The Heat could do nothing about it in Game 4, and they simply looked defeated emotionally by the time halftime rolled around.
Sure, the Heat are the defending champs and will likely come out with the urgency one would expect from a team in that position on the brink of elimination, but there is no reason to think San Antonio won’t continue to dominate in every facet.
The Spurs are much deeper than Miami, are a better rebounding team, enjoy an enormous mismatch at point guard, have Leonard harassing James and Boris Diaw is playing like a reincarnation of Magic Johnson at times. What is perhaps most scary from Miami's point of view is that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili haven't exactly dominated yet, and the Spurs have still been this effective.
That being said, look for the Heat to come out and establish a lead early with that urgency. However, San Antonio will eventually start to hit some of those open looks that it seemingly gets every time it wants, and the home crowd will respond accordingly and spur a run (no pun intended).
The Heat will start to see the writing on the wall, and the energy level will slowly dip. San Antonio is just the better overall team, and deep down, both teams may just know that.
The Spurs’ superior depth will extend the lead gradually, and it will exorcise those demons from last year’s collapse in Game 6 against this very same team. Hopefully the postgame focus will then be on San Antonio’s brilliance rather than Miami’s loss.
Prediction: Spurs 101, Heat 89
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