The San Antonio Spurs' performance as they cruised past the Miami Heat during Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals was nothing short of awe-inspiring basketball. They completely dismantled the two-time defending champions with amazing precision.
As the series returns to San Antonio for Game 5, the major question mark is whether the Heat will be able to turn the tide. There's an extra day off for head coach Erik Spoelstra and the coaching staff to come up with a new game plan because their defense simply hasn't been good enough.
Miami has already won on the road in the series and should be supremely motivated after back-to-back blowouts on its home floor. It should lead to a far more competitive fifth game. So let's check out all of the important details along with a preview and prediction.
Where: AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas
When: Sunday, June 15 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
The biggest issue for the Heat over the past two games is the lack of faith in their interior defense. Whenever a San Antonio player drives into the paint, several players collapse off the outside shooters, and about three passes later, the Spurs get a wide-open look.
And they haven't been missing.
In the opening round, the Dallas Mavericks were able to push the Spurs to seven games because Samuel Dalembert and Brandan Wright were playing solid defense in the middle, averaging nearly two-and-a-half blocks combined.
Serge Ibaka gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a boost upon his return against San Antonio for the exact same reason. It became clear as the series went on that he wasn't at full strength, however.
The Heat haven't shown the same ability to stop the drive. In turn, they have tried to use a committee approach to protect the paint, and it simply hasn't worked. It's a time where they probably wish Greg Oden would have enjoyed a miracle resurgence because he represents exactly what they need.
Instead, the onus will fall on Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh to do a better job. Udonis Haslem could also see some added minutes after brief cameos in the last three games.
Ultimately, the Heat have to pick their poison against an opponent with so many weapons. So far, they have decided to let Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli shoot from the outside.
The results speak for themselves, as illustrated by ESPN Stats and Info:
In Game 5, Spoelstra's best bet is telling the help defenders to stay away. When anybody from San Antonio attacks the lane—and it's usually Tony Parker or Boris Diaw—stay on the shooters and let the drivers try to navigate the paint to score.
The same goes for when the Spurs dump it down to Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter. Trust Andersen, Bosh and Haslem to play good man defense. They can't just keep letting the Spurs getting open looks from beyond the arc.
Offensively, LeBron James needs help. Sam Amick of USA Today passed along remarks from the superstar, who talked about the burden he carries:
It's not (all) on my shoulder; it's not. I understand I get a lot of the limelight in the press and all that, but it's not all on my shoulder. I take a lot of it, but I do it for my teammates and I want them to put a lot of pressure on me in that sense.
Everybody, including the Spurs, understands James is going to get his points. He scored 19 points in the third quarter of Game 4, and San Antonio still managed to increase its lead by five points because nobody else from Miami stepped up.
Dwyane Wade needs to play like a star. Bosh must stretch the Spurs defense by knocking down mid-range and outside shots. Ray Allen needs to hit some momentum-shifting threes like numerous Spurs have throughout the series.
Absence of that, it doesn't matter what the best player in the world does. The Spurs are clicking on all cylinders right now, and the Heat only have one more chance to get back on track.
All told, the Heat are a battle-tested group of veterans with a lot of pride. That's why a third straight blowout to clinch the series would be a surprise. They are going to do everything in their power to send the series back to Miami.
It just doesn't seem like the Heat will be able to solve all of the problems the Spurs present. San Antonio simply has too many weapons that are playing at a high level right now. Look for them to close out the series and earn another banner for the rafters on Sunday.
Prediction: Spurs 102, Heat 98
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