Will the 2014 NBA Finals be an epic or a novella?
The biggest surprise of this series is how much the San Antonio Spurs have outclassed the Miami Heat for much of the first four games. Each of the Spurs' three wins has come by double digits, including their Game 4 demolition of the Eastern Conference champions.
Winning three titles in a row is extremely difficult, and you're seeing exactly why in this series.
As ESPN.com's Israel Gutierrez said in a chat amongst the site's basketball writers, the Heat were probably the favorites before the Finals started, but whatever advantage they had has evaporated:
They are now, yes. There was a time when Miami could ramp up the defense and the Spurs would play out of character. That time wasn't too long ago, either. Just watch the end of Game 2, when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili tried to win it at the end and failed. Now, with the Spurs playing like their usual selves, it's quite obvious the Heat's defense can't hang, and the offense isn't good enough to keep up.
It should come as no surprise that the Spurs are favored heading into Game 5.
Odds (courtesy of OddsShark.com and updated as of Saturday, June 14, at 12:30 p.m. ET)
Spread: San Antonio -5
Moneyline: Miami +206; San Antonio -234
Not to pile on the Heat or anything, but San Antonio has never lost when up 3-1 in the postseason, per SportsCenter:
Under Gregg Popovich, Spurs are 10-0 in best-of-7 series when taking a 3-1 lead. pic.twitter.com/F9tGIXUe5t— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 13, 2014
As you'd expect, LeBron James is refusing to throw in the towel.
"We put ourselves in position where it is about making history," he said, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. "I do know the numbers. It's never been done before. But we're still a confident bunch."
Tim Duncan is refusing to dismiss the Heat too, per Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel:
Tim Duncan on the Heat's outlook, "They have all the confidence in the world that they can win these games."— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) June 14, 2014
The big question is whether Miami's defense will all of a sudden improve drastically over the next three games. Here's a look at how the Heat have performed during the regular season and postseason over the last three seasons:
|Points Per Game||Opp. Percentage||Def. Efficiency|
The numbers speak for themselves. The Heat's defense regressed during the regular season, and it's gotten even worse in the playoffs.
That problem is only exacerbated by the Spurs' superior ball movement. San Antonio has few wasted motions in its offense. It's like watching Barcelona play soccer.
Just as Xavi and Andres Iniesta know exactly what they're doing with the ball before they even receive it, so too do Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw.
According to NBA Stats, the Spurs averaged more passes per possession in Game 4 of the Finals than they had in any game all season:
.@Spurs threw 4.54 passes per possession in Gm4, their highest rate in any game this season or Playoffs. Their 2nd highest? 4.21...in Game 3— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 14, 2014
Of course, the Heat may be dead in the water if they don't give James more help offensively. He left the Cleveland Cavaliers so he wouldn't have to shoulder so heavy a burden, yet here he is in what is almost a mirror image of the 2007 NBA Finals.
James is doing everything he can, but his supporting cast is letting him down in a big way:
LeBron is averaging 27.5 points on 60% shooting in The Finals. A week ago, Heat fans would have figured that added up to a 3-1 lead.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) June 14, 2014
Barring some sort of unforeseen collapse by the Spurs, this series is all but over; the only drama left is whether or not they win it at home on Sunday night. San Antonio has to this point been the far superior team, and Miami has shown few signs of raising its game to an otherworldly degree.