The Miami Heat have looked like an NBA lottery team rather than the Eastern Conference champions in the past two games of the NBA Finals, much to the delight of San Antonio Spurs fans (and Heat haters) everywhere.
Before we start blaming LeBron James and company, though, it’s important to point out that the Spurs have been absolutely brilliant and deserve more credit than Miami does criticism. Still, the fact that the Heat looked flat out terrible in front of their home fans is certainly eyebrow-raising to say the least.
They will be much better in Game 5 on Sunday.
The first and obvious point is that things can’t get much worse. It didn’t take a body language expert to realize Miami was completely discouraged emotionally and mentally from San Antonio’s two-game onslaught. The Spurs simply ran them out of the building and made any perceived home-court advantage Miami might have had disappear quickly.
One more win for the Spurs, and many of those demons from last year’s Finals will be exorcised.
Perhaps nothing portrays the difference in play between the two teams better than this ball movement stat, courtesy of Tas Melas of NBA TV:
Sometimes playing poorly at home, especially under the gripping pressure of the NBA Finals, only exacerbates the issues. The fans started booing in Game 4, which, given the recent history of success from this Miami team, is absolutely ridiculous, and players were visibly pressing and forcing ill-advised shots. Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in particular looked lost on offense.
Even James, who did put on a brief scoring display in the third quarter after the game was well in hand, struggled on the defensive end and wasn’t moving the ball like he typically does.
Playing on the road, without the additional pressure an upset home crowd can create, will at least help Miami relax a bit on the floor and settle into the flow of the game.
It’s not like we're suddenly talking about the Philadelphia 76ers here. The Heat are the two-time defending champions who looked like the better team for long stretches in the first two games in San Antonio. They had every chance to win Game 1 until James went down with his infamous cramps and the Spurs simply blitzed them in the final minutes.
Miami did win Game 2 to even the series on the road by outplaying San Antonio down the stretch in the final minutes with the outcome in the balance.
Miami will not be intimidated by playing in San Antonio and has been much better there than it was on its home court in this series.
It will also bring the desperation one would expect from a two-time defending champion on the brink of elimination. We saw Miami’s and James’ extra gear against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals a couple of years ago when they were down 3-2, and we saw it again last year against San Antonio in Games 6 and 7 when a loss would have ended the season.
The Heat understand they have to come out better from the get-go to prevent the crowd from getting into a frenzy. If the Spurs build a dominant lead in the first quarter for the third straight game, the series will be over.
However, just because Miami will be desperate and drastically better in Game 5 than it has been in Games 3 and 4 doesn’t mean it will win the game.
The Spurs know they cannot let up for even one moment against this team, as Tony Parker’s comments after Game 4 indicated, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "They're the two-time champs, they're a great team and there is still one more game. We have to win one more game."
Kawhi Leonard has given James serious fits on both sides of the floor; San Antonio is the deeper team and it is getting contributions from almost everyone on the roster. What’s more, Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili haven’t even dominated like they are capable of doing, and the Spurs have still been the better team by a wide margin.
Miami will perform better in Game 5, but it will be the Spurs hoisting the trophy after the final buzzer sounds.
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