The chance to finish off the series a lot sooner than expected for the San Antonio Spurs, hosting the Miami Heat, reeling from two crushing home defeats, leading 3-1 in the NBA Finals and needing just one more victory to wrap it all up and win their fifth NBA title.
If there’s on team you expect not to let that get to their heads it’s the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich isn’t throwing around too many compliments at his players. They were seconds away from ultimate celebration last year and somehow missed out on finishing the job. There have been three days for the teams to travel and digest what happened in the two games at Miami, yet it’s hard to imagine the Spurs suddenly getting complacent.
What can happen? The Spurs might stop making shots. The right basketball creates easy shots. The Spurs have worked that to perfection through the last couple of games and their current shooting percentage in this finals series (54.2% from the field) is the second highest in the history of the league in a Finals series, or at least since the shot clock was introduced into our lives back in 1955.
There’s also the Miami Heat. Despite playing terrible, sluggishly and awfully in games 3 and 4 but especially in the fourth, it’s impossible to take a look at this team and declare that it’s all over for them. LeBron James has played well for most of this series, maybe the one constant for the Miami Heat throughout all of this. However, it hasn’t been enough, and even dominating Kawhi Leonard, if he actually manages to do that through the entire game, won’t be enough unless his role players or big three side kicks step up.
And for that to happen there’s a simple thing the Heat need to understand: Offense isn’t going to conjure itself out of thin air. Players need to move. The ball needs to move. The Miami Heat are losing on both ends of the floor, but the turnovers and their terrible decisions offensively make it easy for the Spurs to execute in transition, getting so many open shots from three while doing an excellent job in half court as well with their screen quality rising to a level never seen before or at least not in a very long time.
Trying to look at the series and what might be left of it realistically and objectively, it’s hard to imagine a team completely turning things around after these two games. The Spurs did take things to another level after game 2, but they only lost it by two points. They weren’t outplayed from the tip off to the buzzer for 48 minutes, twice in three nights. The Heat have that riding on them, but maybe getting counted out by everyone released them away from the yoke of the pressure and expectations.
The Spurs just might be too good for anyone in these playoffs. They didn’t have the easiest of runs through the Western conference but that simply made them stronger, better. The Miami Heat didn’t have it entirely easy through the East, but they lost only three times going into the series against the Spurs. They certainly didn’t see this kind of challenge, or haven’t been able to adapt to it.
Adjustments are the name of the game in the playoffs, but there is something more than x’s and o’s for the Heat in this one. Staying alive in this series doesn’t guarantee eventual triumph, but it leaves a better taste in their mouths and some hope about the future of this franchise, wherever it may take them once this season is officially over. The actual mental effort, which means thinking on plays instead of just waiting around to be saved, needs to change. Without that, all the adjustments in the world aren’t going to help.