Heat-Spurs: Finals Hub
SAN ANTONIO – The road trips end for the Miami Heat on Sunday night when, win or lose in Game 5 of the 2013 Finals against San Antonio (8 p.m. ET, ABC), the Heat will fly and unpack as a group for the last time in 2012-13.
It wasn’t a winding road for the defending champions as much as it was a bumpy road with one big right turn: After going 11-11 in away games through Feb. 1, Miami went 18-1 the rest of the regular season. It is 6-3 on the road so far in the playoffs.
“Our guys have confidence winning anywhere,” coach Erik Spoelstra said at the team’s shootaround session Sunday morning at The Episcopal School of Texas on the northern outskirts of San Antonio. “That’s never really been a concern. Some of our best games have been on the road. You need veteran poise, experienced leaders to be able to do that.
“Now the challenge is, can we play our best game of the series on the road versus a worthy opponent who’s going to come in desperate?”
The Heat players and coachs are tired of the win-one, lose-one pattern into which they have lapsed since the start of the Eastern Conference finals. Several members of their group have said “Enough is enough” to the defensive lapses and slippages in effort or concentration that have turned them into a .500 club for most of the past month.
Yes, the competition has gotten more keen but that’s when champions are supposed to dial up their games, too.
That’s what happened in February after Miami churned along at a .500 pace through its first 22 road games. Focus understandably was a challenge for a team whose season would be defined by what it did in May and June, but the 11-11 start included double-digit road spankings from New York, Memphis, Indiana, Milwaukee and even Detroit.
Defensive letdowns – of the sort that allowed for San Antonio’s 113-77 rout in Game 3 Tuesday – were cleaned up as Miami began to sense the finish line even before it could see it, and the quality of play necessary to repeat. So instead of giving up 97.4 points as they had in those first 22 road games, they limited opponents to 90.7 over their final 19.
Not coincidentally, the Heat’s 27-game winning streak began with a 15-point victory over the Raptors at Toronto. They were just as good on the road as at home (19-1) after that. Miami’s 29-12 road record is as good as or better than any Finals team since the 2008 Boston Celtics. Its 6-3 playoff mark is an improvement from the first two springs of the “Big Three” era, when Miami went 5-5 on the road while splitting a pair of Finals.
“We knew to defend our title, playing on the road was a huge part of it,” forward Chris Bosh said after the regular season of the turning point back in February. “We stopped making excuses and got the job done.”
Through the 11-11 stretch, there were several things that Miami needed to fix and clean up before it could turn the road in its favor. But now, after four-and-a-half months in which they have gone 24-4?
“Hotel food gets old,” backup Shane Battier said, laughing. “That’s all I got. You want something deep and philosophical? Hotel food gets old.”
One more thing about road work in The Finals: San Antonio, which was 23-18 and 7-2 in the playoffs away from home, shouldn’t count on winning Games 6 and 7 in Miami, if it comes to that. No road team has in the 2-3-2 format.