- Heat-Spurs: Finals Hub
MIAMI – If the Miami Heat can’t win two in a row, they can’t repeat as championships. It’s that simple.
Games are the building blocks of championships. Sixteen of the former equal one of the latter. There are multiple ways to get there, from a fo’, fo’, fo’, fo’ level of dominance that no team in NBA Finals history ever has quite achieved to a relatively mediocre 16-12 record if all four rounds of best-of-seven competition went the max. No one has done it that way, either.
But Miami has no options left. The team whose regular season was defined, and maybe gilded, by its ability to string together victories better than all but one of its predecessors – the Heat’s 27 straight ranks second only to the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers – now must win Games 6 and 7 of the 2013 Finals this week at AmericanAirlines Arena. Either that or fall short of the legacy it staked out for itself in the summer of 2010 and turn what purportedly was going to rival the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls in a run of rings into something more befitting the Atlanta Braves.
This bizarre, one-step-forward-one-step-back ritual has been going on for more than a month now.
But the wiggle room is gone and the reality is one that necessarily flies in the face of sports’ grandest cliché: As much as the Heat say they want to play one game at a time, they must have two. There’s no getting around that and, probably, no forgetting it either as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest take the court for Tuesday night. The San Antonio Spurs will have the luxury of playing 48 minutes, but the Heat will be staring and maybe gulping at the prospect of 96.
How did this happen?
The Heat spent much of the three days between Games 4 and 5 talking about the same stuff. Enough is enough. Now is the time for our best road performance of the playoffs. Only enough wasn’t quite enough. And now wasn’t the time after all.
At least Miami is home for whatever remains of the championship series. Eight teams have been in the same pickle since the Finals went to its 2-3-2 format in 1985 – down 3-2 in the series – and three have dug out to win the NBA title: the Lakers in 1988, Houston in 1994 and the Lakers again in 2010.
Like this Heat, those teams faced mighty opposition too (the “Bad Boy” Pistons, the Pat Riley-led Knicks and the original blueprint “Big Three” Celtics). It’s entirely possible that what the Spurs put together Sunday was all about pride and saving face, exiting their arena for the summer on a high note and making some final fond memories of what might have been the last Finals home game for this particular group (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili).
That will be stirred into Miami fans’ hopes at least a little, because the alternative is downright unnerving. The Heat drip both talent and entitlement in equal doses and – though they talk of the respect they have for San Antonio’s run of excellence over 14 seasons – still come across as if these Finals are all about them.
The Spurs might be breaking it to Miami in the harshest way possible that the series just might be about them instead. They might wind up as equal to or better than the Heat over a span of six or seven games.
“We’re just trying to will it to happen,” Duncan said. “We hope we can respond better next game than we have after wins. That’s the one thing we want to clean up. Every one of us wants this very badly, from the top on down.”
Well, what d’ya know? The Spurs want to play better after winning. The Heat is frantic again after losing. That speaks volumes about Miami’s leadership, maturity and maybe even arrogance.
Any extended playoff series is about adjustments and there have been plenty. Also, the longer a series goes, the more flaws become visible on both sides. If this goes seven, whoever wins will be a three-time loser in the Finals.
Still, San Antonio made 60 percent of its field goals in the most pressurized game it has played this season. It didn’t exploit Miami’s greatest vulnerability, with a mere 36-34 edge in rebounds in game 5. The Spurs even survived 19 turnovers, which is like Superman surviving Kryptonite underwear.
Somehow, through it all, Boris Diaw, the Parisian doughboy, stymied the four-time Most Valuable Player through long stretches of Sunday’s game, a surprise switch-up from usual defender Kawhi Leonard. Parker reacted like a bull reacts to red whenever he saw Heat guard Norris Cole trying to guard him.
And Parker couldn’t help smiling and shaking his head at how neglectful the vaunted Miami defense has been on Danny Green, the unheralded role player who suddenly owns the NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers in a series (25) and is an improbable Finals MVP candidate for the team with the 3-2 lead.
The Heat, once again, was consistent only in inconsistency. Their adversity dials weren’t cranked up enough, this only being Game 5 of the NBA finals.
“There were times where we crawled back into it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “but we were not very efficient, did not move the ball the way we needed to, didn’t have the necessary patience in those key times, end of the first, end of the third. … We just weren’t executing with any kind of precision.”
James and Wade, in particular, were kept out of the paint or bothered whenever they entered. Defensively, neither showed the level of effort – which translates into leadership – required for the game’s highest level.
The two spoke afterward about fixing this or that, but whatever they need for Game 6 was there inside for Game 5. It just stayed untapped.
San Antonio tapped in instead.
“You just keep playing,” Popovich said. “We didn’t change defenses or put in a trick play or any of that kind of stuff. At this point it’s about competing. Players playing well and competing.”
The “Big Three” Heat will be facing the fifth and, if they’re lucky, sixth elimination games in their three postseasons together. They have trailed nine times in their 12 playoff series.
The most pertinent predicament to this: in the 2011 Finals, Miami went home down 3-2 to Dallas. Four quarters later, they went home, period.
“We challenge ourselves to see if we’re a better team than we was,” Wade said. “Everything happens for a reason and this is not a bad reason at all to go home for Game 6 on your home floor.”
At no point, however, in their 27-game winning streak did Miami beat the San Antonio Spurs twice in three nights.
Of the Spurs, Wade said: “They understand winning that last game is one of the hardest things you’re going to do.”
Miami can’t even think that way yet, forced to focus now on winning that next game.