MIAMI — In their most important game of the season, a game that Chris Bosh had referred to hours earlier as a “must-win” game, the Miami Heat lost, at home, to the San Antonio Spurs by 21 points, 107-86. This just two days after losing, at home, to the Spurs by 19 points, 111-92.
To be fair, calling these two games “losses” by the Heat may be selling the Spurs a bit short. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs have systematically dismantled the Heat, exposing almost every flaw of the two-time defending champs while on the game’s biggest stage.
“I mean, they smashed us,” said LeBron James. “Two straight home games, got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these two games. It’s just that simple.”
“Well, I think they’re getting to their game a lot better than we are,” said Dwyane Wade. “They’re doing what they want to do better than we are. So right now they’re playing better than us, no question about it. We’ll see at the end of the series. Whoever wins is the better team. But the Spurs are playing better than us. They whipped our butt here at home, and you’ve got to give them credit for coming out, getting to their game plan, their game for 48 minutes, and we haven’t been able to do that. So if we want to get back into the series, we have to be better than them on Sunday. If not, then it will be over.”
For a team built around three superstars, during Games 3 and 4, the Heat have looked suspiciously like a team with one star who has been getting precious little support. While James finished Game 4 with 28 points, eight boards and eight assists, Bosh and Wade combined for just 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. The only other Heat player to score more than eight points was James Jones, who scored 11 once the game was out of reach.
As this series has played out, the Heat have looked like a tired team, a squad that has played every one of the 86 playoff games they’ve logged over the last four years. While the Heat players dismissed talk of exhaustion, the eye test has seemed to show a Heat team relying on making plays that haven’t always been there when needed.
Which isn’t to say this series has been all about the Heat’s failures. The Spurs have shown on possession after possession, on both sides of the ball, that simple things like ball movement, spacing, help defense and teamwork still hold ultimate value. According to James, the Spurs present a singular set of challenges, almost a perfect basketball storm.
“Man, they move the ball extremely well,” said James. “They put you in positions that no other team in this league does, and it’s tough because you have to cover the ball first, but also those guys on the weak side can do multiple things. They can shoot the ball from outside, they can also penetrate. So our defense is geared towards running guys off the three-point line, but at the same time those guys are getting full steam ahead and getting to the rim, too. The challenge is as well, with them, implementing [Boris] Diaw into the lineup has given them another point guard on the floor. So Manu [Ginobili], Tony [Parker], and Diaw and Patty Mills on the floor at once, they’ve got four point guards basically on the floor at once. So all of them are live and they all can make plays. So it’s a challenge for us all.”
This Heat core was assembled to win numerous titles, as James famously said at their introductory press conference: “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.” They’ve got two, but number three had looked more and more elusive as the 2014 Finals has played out. Yet for a Heat team that has put together four consecutive runs to the NBA Finals, perhaps their biggest test yet still awaits beginning with Sunday’s Game 5 in San Antonio, as the odds are stacked against Miami — no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win an NBA championship.
“I don’t care about odds,” noted Bosh. “Odds are for people that can’t do it.”
“Obviously, I do know the numbers,” said James. “It’s never been done before, but we’re still a confident bunch, even though our heads are lowered down right now. Of course, being down 3-1, and losing two straight games at home, that’s just human nature. But we’ve still got to go out and play on Sunday.”