The San Antonio Spurs have forced the Miami Heat to the brink of their first playoff heartbreak in three years. But if 2013's devastating NBA Finals defeat taught the Spurs anything, it's that the Heat can't be counted out until they are.
With San Antonio possessing a commanding 3-1 lead in these 2014 NBA Finals heading into Sunday's Game 5, the two-time defending champions will have zero room for error the rest of the way. But on the other side, the Spurs can't afford to give the Heat any life by letting off the gas early.
Below we'll break down the keys to a Game 5 triumph for both teams.
Heat Must Turn Over New Leaf, Dig in Defensively
It's officially desperation time for Miami. The Heat must win three straight games, including two on the road, if they hope to three-peat this June.
And seeing as the Spurs have picked them apart in the past two games, winning by a combined 40 points in Games 3 and 4, it's nearly impossible to fathom a scenario where the Heat come back to win this series.
Still, crazier things have happened, and with four-time league MVP LeBron James wearing a Heat jersey, Miami can't be written off, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Only 2 players in NBA history have averaged 30 PPG and 10 RPG when facing playoff elimination: LeBron James and Wilt Chamberlain.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 15, 2014
Understanding the magnitude of the task at hand, James and his teammates have seemingly acquired a nothing-to-lose mentality, per ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne:
Why not us? History is broken all the time. And obviously we know we're against the greatest of odds. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, but there was a point where no team came back from a 2-0. There was a point where no team came back from a 3-0. There was a point where no team came back from a 3-1 or 3-0 deficit in the ALCS, and then the Red Sox did it against the Yankees.
So history is made to be broken, and why not me be a part of it? That would be great. That would be a great storyline, right? But we'll see what happens. I've got to live in the moment, though, before we even get to that point.
While some will say the Heat must be more efficient offensively and score more points in order to extend the series, it's obvious that Miami must improve defensively if it is to have any chance of winning Game 5. After all, San Antonio shot 59 percent from the floor en route to scoring 111 points in Game 3 and shot 57 percent from the field on its way to 107 points in Game 4.
Although Erik Spoelstra's team will have to live with some things, Miami can't allow San Antonio to make nine threes on only 20 attempts in Game 5. Running shooters off the arc leads to penetration, but it's the lesser of two evils for Miami.
What's more, the Heat have to increase their intensity on the boards. Miami is among the league's worst rebounding teams, but there's no excuse to give up 12 offensive rebounds at home in what's essentially a must-win game.
Securing loose balls and battling on the glass will be even more important to Miami's chances of winning on the road on Sunday.
But Miami's success in Game 5 or lack thereof ultimately depends on its defensive effort.
Spurs Can't Fix What Isn't Broken
In order for San Antonio to close out Miami on Sunday night and secure the franchise's fifth NBA championship, ball movement is a must.
It's no secret that the Spurs are at their best when they are whipping the ball around and forcing Miami's defense to not only rotate but also protect the paint and close out on three-point shooters. It's a difficult task and one the Heat have been unable to accomplish over the first four games of the series.
The only time Miami appeared to be in control was during the fourth quarter of Game 2, when the ball seemed to stick for San Antonio.
In addition to their spacing and passing, the Spurs will need another strong performance from their bench, which accounted for 41 points in Game 4.
Manu Ginobili is obviously the most dynamic bench player for San Antonio, but when Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are able to stretch the floor by knocking down threes, it makes Ginobili that much more dangerous.
Plus, like Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, you can expect Ginobili to make the right play more often than not and have a productive outing regardless of the situation or opponent.
Tiago Splitter's relentlessness is also vital to San Antonio's success. His effort rarely shows up in the box score, but by battling on the boards and rolling hard to the basket, the Brazilian is putting Miami's defense in tough situations.
Another impressive passing performance (20-plus assists) and inspired effort from the Spurs bench will no doubt propel them to their long-awaited fifth NBA title on Sunday night.
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