After a shocking turn of events in South Beach, the 2014 NBA Finals has shifted back to San Antonio with the Spurs in position to win their fifth championship with just one more victory on their home floor in Game 5.
But Gregg Popovich's squad knows as well as anyone just how tough it is to eliminate the Miami Heat. This time last year, they held a 3-2 series lead before the Heat battled back to win Game 6 and eventually win their second straight title.
Why might this year be different?
Well, for starters, the Spurs are up 3-1 in the series—no team has ever rallied back to win the Finals down 3-1. On top of that, San Antonio has two of the next three at home, should it go that far. However, anything can happen when LeBron James is leading the opposition.
Let's break down Game 5.
When: Sunday, June 15 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Odds: Spurs -5.5 (via OddsShark.com as of June 15)
Who will win Game 5?
NBA Finals Schedule: Visit NBA.com for the schedule of Games 6 and 7 should the Heat extend the series Sunday night.
Game 5 Preview
The ebb and flow of this year's Finals surprised no one as we saw the Spurs and Heat trade games back and forth in the opening three games of the series. By the time Game 4 rolled around, the template had suggested Miami would convincingly tie things up at two games apiece heading back to San Antonio.
Things didn't quite work out that way.
Instead, the Spurs—other than not making history with their shooting—came out just as strong in Game 4 as they did in the previous game. Miami was lost on offense all game long, and another beautiful display of offensive dominance from the Spurs propelled them to victory.
Suddenly, the Spurs were heading back home with a 3-1 lead and coming off two road wins by an average winning margin of 20.
And the Heat were left searching for answers, as told by head coach Erik Spoelstra's post-game comments, per ESPN SportsCenter:
"This was probably the biggest surprise of the series. Everybody came in expecting something dramatically different than this." - Spoelstra— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 13, 2014
Maybe that's the problem. If Spoelstra's comments are any indication, the Heat were "expecting something" from Game 4 while the Spurs just went out, executed the way that they've been able to all series long and earned another lopsided victory.
San Antonio has been something else in this series.
The Spurs' offensive clinic put on throughout this season combined with their hunger to avenge last year's sour Finals defeat have allowed them to play their best basketball, and it certainly looks like they have Miami's number this time around.
On the other end of things, it's becoming more and more apparent that the Heat are simply wearing down.
LeBron James has been marvelous as usual, as indicated by the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds:
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
But when James scored 19 of the Heat's 21 third-quarter points in Game 4 and it ended with the Spurs holding a more than 20-point lead, he can't feel good about his supporting cast with one road game to decide this season's fate.
Plus, there's that whole thing about how no team has ever done what the Heat are trying to do, per ESPN's Darren Rovell:
No team down 3-1 in the NBA Finals has ever come back to win the title. Only 2 teams forced a Game 7 (1951 Knicks, 1966 Lakers)— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) June 13, 2014
If James wants his third straight title hopes to stay alive, he might need to go off like he did in Game 2 with little to no help surfacing around him in the last two games.
Even then, if he happens to go for 35 and 10 again, he'll need scoring from Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen, who had a combined 55 points in Game 2—and the Heat still only won by two.
The Heat have done it before—snatching the title from the Spurs' grasp last year—but this is a new year and a much harder challenge. San Antonio's offense is clicking on all cylinders, and Miami's morale is getting worse by the minute.
If the Heat go on to win Game 5 and even Game 6, it won't be the first surprise we've seen in the 2014 NBA Finals. If anyone can do it, it's the team with two future Hall of Famers and the best player in the world.
But at this point, it's as improbable as anything.
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