Erik Spoelstra kept repeating the obvious as if what he had just witnessed hadn’t completely registered.
“I can honestly say I don’t think any of us were expecting this type of performance,” he said. “Our approach coming into the game, and everything, they were great.”
And then again.
“This was the biggest surprise of the series, this game,” Spoelstra said after a stunning 21-point loss to the Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
And then another repeatable refrain from the Heat’s always-stoic coach — the amount of time to prepare for Game 5 on Sunday at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.
On the Heat’s poor opening quarters the past two games: “Well, we’ll work on that in the next 48 hours.”
On if fatigue has been a factor: “No, it’s not fatigue. Both teams are playing the same minutes, same time of year. We just have to figure it out. We have 48 hours.”
On adjusting mentally to back-to-back blowouts at home: “At the end of the day, what I told our team … when we’re right, we can beat anybody, anywhere. Our guys feel they can win at any time against anybody in any building, and that’s the only focus for the next 48 hours.”
So many repetitive themes these past few days: words, results, actions and errors. One thing, though, doesn’t seem likely to be duplicated — another title for Miami. The Heat trails the Spurs 3-1 in the best-of-7 series, and history offers a precedent that suggests the two-time defending champions cannot win three consecutive games. No team has ever come back from down 3-1 in the NBA Finals.
It bears repeating.
In the history of the league’s championship round, there has never been a team resilient enough to rally from the deficit the Heat faces.
The only hope for the Heat now is that it is unique in a way no team has been before it.
That was exactly Spoelstra’s message to his players after that sobering scene at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday night.
“Our mind-set will be to get it right to where we know we can win anywhere three days from now,” Spoelstra said.
LeBron James wants to be historically great. Here’s his chance to speed up that process.
“We put ourselves in a position where it is about making history,” James said. “But all we can do is worry about Game 5. We’ve got to worry about Sunday first. Try to go up there in a hostile environment, where we were able to steal one in Game 2, and try to get another one and go on from there.
“Obviously, I do know the numbers. It’s never been done before, but we’re still a confident bunch, even though our heads are lowered down right now.”
The Heat will review its many mistakes from Game 4, but the players know them all already. They made the same exact ones Tuesday in Game 3. Defensively, they couldn’t keep up with the Spurs’ exceptionally run offense. On the other end, no one could score except for James. He finished with 28 points, which equaled the production of the Heat’s other four starters combined.
The numbers suggest tired legs, but Spoelstra said that’s not the case. Instead, the coach blamed himself.
“I’ve got to do a better job for my team,” Spoelstra said. “San Antonio is playing great. They’re moving the basketball. They’re exploiting where we’re normally good, so we have to do a better job.
“Even when we’ve made adjustments, they’ve still been able to stay in a rhythm and a flow from there.”
Asked if an adjustment defensively might be necessary, considering the Heat’s defensive system requires an energy level from its players that they simple haven’t been able to manufacture, Spoelstra didn’t rule it out.
“Possibly,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got a couple days to figure it out, but we’ll lay everything out, look under the hood and see what we need to do.
“We have some adjustments, and, like I said, they’ve been able to get into their game, their rhythm and flow, regardless of what scheme we’ve been able to put out there, and you do have to credit them for that.”
Spoelstra and the Heat’s players prided themselves during the regular season on the team’s ball movement. But it’s the Spurs who have been clinical after dropping Game 2 at home. San Antonio shot 57 percent from the field in Game 4 after nearly shooting 60 percent in Game 3.
Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs’ other shooters have found open looks by whipping passes around the court faster than the Heat’s players can run.
Perhaps the best way to quantify the Spurs’ ball movement from Game 4 is by counting the number of “hockey assists” the team generated, noted writer Couper Moorhead on Heat.com.
A hockey assist in basketball is another name for the pass before the assist. The Spurs led the league in hockey assists this season, averaging 4.5 per game, according to the advanced analytics tracking website SportVU.com.
On Thursday, San Antonio had 14, a playoff high.
The Finals flipped in Game 3 when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich started Boris Diaw in place of Tiago Splitter.
Popovich instructed Diaw, a highly skilled big man, to concentrate on ball movement.
The Heat has had no answer for Diaw, and after Game 4 Chris Bosh recognized that Diaw “broke our back.” Diaw had nine assists.
“[Popovich] just told me that I was going to start the game and, trying to be a facilitator out there, just trying to make plays for others and try to make the right choices,” Diaw said. “So, I was just focusing on that role. Being able to be a relay.”
In simpler terms, the Heat has been run ragged by an offense whose greatest X-factor might be a 6-8, 250-pound forward who has had trouble in the past with keeping his weight down.