No more excuses, and no more losses. The Miami Heat are on the verge of leaving the NBA finals empty handed for a second time in three seasons, and if there was ever a time for LeBron James to not only rise and bring out his absolute best but to get the same from his coach, Erik Spoelstra, it’s now.
It begins with the way the Heat have been playing on offense, and it carries on with their disappointing effort on defense most of the time. James is averaging 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists in this series, but the Heat in their current form, which is a bit of a mess considering all of the role players under-performing, need a little bit more from him.
In their last two losses to the Spurs, the Heat gave up 227 points and 27 three pointers, as the Spurs shot 53.8% from the field and 46.3% from beyond the arc. Danny Green, the leading scorer for the Spurs in this series (18 points per game), was 13-of-19 from three point range in these two games alone. The Heat’s gambling and trapping keeps leaving him open, and unlike what anyone though initially, he hasn’t stopped making those shots.
The Heat have the best player in the world and a superstar sidekick who has been awoken in these last couple of games (28.5 points, 7 assists, 3.5 steals), but the rest of the lot hasn’t been trustworthy and consistent, not to mention Miami being forced to play in lineups that work better for the Spurs.
Small-ball? San Antonio used their own version of it with Manu Ginobili leading the charge, and the Miami Heat, especially when Chris Bosh wasn’t on the floor, couldn’t find an answer. The Heat lost by 10 points to the Spurs in game 5, but Chris Bosh, who did play for 38 minutes, finishing +7 on his +/-, as the moments when Udonis Haslem was on the floor instead of him were a complete disaster.
Another players that’s usually been trustworthy on defense, Norris Cole, is suddenly hardly used because of his inability to make shots from the outside. Worse – he has stopped being a pest on defense, as Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker had no problem scoring on him as the Spurs went on their 21-2 run, taking the Heat from -1 into a situation they couldn’t find their way back from anymore.
The Heat have been proud all season long about playing their way, and forcing teams to change according to their special lineups. The Spurs aren’t the first team – the Indiana Pacers made it quite difficult as well in the conference finals, to challenge Spoelstra and take him out of his comfort zone. But Miami are so transfixed about having four shooters on the floor that it’s taken Chris Andersen completely out of the rotation, and made Chris Bosh someone they can’t afford to have sit on the bench.
The Heat haven’t lost two in a row in nearly six months, but like after every loss in the playoffs so far, and especially in the finals against San Antonio, there’s a feeling that something isn’t working. The offense is stuck with too many isolation plays and not enough off the ball movement and screens, as guys like Mike Miller are spending 25 minutes on the floor but hardly getting any touches on the ball.
The Heat’s defense is neglecting Danny Green and others at times, while some of the help and decisions by some players (like Dwyane Wade) have been either lazy or simply wrong, something the Heat can’t afford against such an opponents.
There’s about so much LeBron James can do in terms of taking over a game. If the Spurs crowd the paint, there’s not a lot for him to do but find the open man, who will be there as long as Miami stop insisting of using the least amount of intelligence in their basketball, which at this point, is up to Erik Spoelstra to pound into the heads of his players, hoping they have enough in them to pull if off for two games straight.