HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Based strictly on what we’ve seen from these two teams thus far, Game 6 of The Finals should include plenty of drama and a Heat win by a comfortable margin. That would force a must-see Game 7 for the 2012-13 NBA championship, the ultimate stage for deciding a champion.
But it’s like LeBron James said, “the most important game is Game 6. We can’t worry about Game 7.”
The only game to worry about for both sides is Game 6, as the pressure on both sides will be sky-high. The Heat are in desperation mode to keep the series alive for a Game 7 while the Spurs need to avoid Game 7 at all costs.
|Down 3-2 w/ final two games at home (since ’85)|
Game 6 tips off Tuesday night at 9 ET on ABC.
The Heat have no room for error tonight on their home floor, and the atmosphere at AmericanAirlines Arena should reflect that tension. A team that won a NBA-best 66 games during the regular season (and a whopping 27-straight at one point) has to win the next 48 minutes to keep their season alive. The Big 3 experiment and legacies for all involved are on the line. The Heat are in survival mode, fighting for the right to utilize home-court advantage in a Game 7.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are 14-2 in road close-out games since 2003. And they don’t want any part of a Game 7 in the Heat’s house. The pressure is on for them to end this thing tonight and claim their fifth title in their championship era. The Spurs didn’t need the validation of what they’ve done over the years, but No. 5 puts Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (neither of whom were around for the first title in 1999) onto the hallowed list of the NBA’s greatest champions.
Did the Indiana Pacers expose weaknesses in the Heat that the Spurs have continued to exploit? It certainly seems that way, especially defensively. The Heat surrendered 113 points and 114 points, respectively, in the two games they lost in San Antonio and allowed the Spurs’ shooters to go wild. They’ve been unable to scramble effectively on the perimeter to cover all of the shooters and couldn’t find their way in transition.
It’s not about role players doing the dirty work either. James and Wade have struggled as much as anyone on the Heat roster on defense. Neither one of them has shown any defensive consistency and both could be spotted jogging down the floor in Game 5 as the Spurs converted fast-break opportunities.
Their activity level, on both ends, in Game 4 was the difference in the Heat’s lone win in San Antonio. They’ll need to bring it again to keep this series going. If the Heat are truly at their best when they’ve been punched in the face and when their backs are against the wall, so to speak, then they should be outstanding tonight.
Every game James plays is a referendum on his career, of some sort. So this Game 6 crucible will be no different from all of the other supposed watershed moments he’s played the past decade. But this game does take on added significance because it serves as the second time in his three Miami seasons that he’s expected to lift the Heat with a championship on the line. He failed to do it against Dallas in 2011, an effort that haunted and then inspired him to erase the memory in 2012.
If role players do indeed play better at home, then Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers or someone else on that Heat roster not named James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh needs to step into the void in Game 6. The Spurs’ outliers did their duty in San Antonio, (see Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal).
Wade’s busted right knee hasn’t been an issue the past two games as he’s played through whatever pain there is and looks like the Wade of 2006 that powered the Heat to a title. If he has another Game 4 effort in him, the Heat need it now. As much as James dictates the mood for the Heat, Wade is the one player in this series capable of delivering a similar whirlwind impact on any given night.
Xs and Os:
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra played his Miller card in Game 4 and the slight tweak worked wonders for the Heat, who got off to a great start early with their small-ball lineup. The change seemed to wake Bosh up and he’s been active and assertive in the paint ever since.
Popovich countered in Game 5 with Ginobili in the starting lineup and the veteran swingman’s presence and impact changed the Spurs’ on-court dynamics. He attacked the Heat from all angles and sparked the Spurs with his best game of the season.
Now that those chips have been played, it’s hard to see either team tweaking their lineups again. Spoelstra could opt to go big again and start either Udonis Haslem or Shane Battier, both much better defenders than Miller. But the Spurs are one of the few teams capable of countering whatever move Spoelstra makes, which forces him into an impossible predicament either way.
Bottom line? The Heat cannot be as loose and lazy as they have been at times throughout this series and expect to do anything other than pack up for the summer after Game 6. Their energy, effort and discipline on defense will have to trigger whatever they do offensively.
After the Spurs’ Game 5 win, Parker admitted to being stunned that Green is still getting open looks against the Heat’s vaunted perimeter defense. Join the club, Tony, because no one expected Green to continue shredding the Heat the way he has through these first five Finals games.
Green already has the record for 3-pointers made in The Finals and is shooting a staggering 66 percent (25-for-38) from deep. Lost in the haze of his sizzling shooting effort in this series is the solid defense he’s played against James and Wade. Again, you can’t get any hotter than Green has been to this point.
Whatever happened to…
Chris “Birdman” Andersen? The Heat’s human energy drink has been missing in action in this series. A game-changer for the Heat with his activity and force around the basket, Andersen has fallen completely out of the rotation with the Spurs going to their small-ball routine.
Andersen has played just 38 minutes in this series, and not a single second in the past two games. If the Heat crank up the energy and get the game going at their preferred tempo in Game 6, the Birdman might be the ideal energy-booster.
It’s win-or-go-home time for the Heat and win or face the daunting image of a road Game 7 for the Spurs.