The Heat stands on a 3-1 precipice, arms windmilling.
The two-time defending champions are that close to crashing after two consecutive losses at home, one by 19 points, the other by 21.
How did this NBA Finals go from riveting rematch to romp?
No team in NBA history has recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win. Certainly, the Heat is capable of a comeback because it is a team that seems to play better when doubted and challenged. When the Heat sees its own blood, its fangs emerge.
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But the Heat’s foe is San Antonio, and the Spurs are on a mission to make up for last year’s blown opportunity to win a fifth title for Tim Duncan. They don’t do bluster, but they want to prove that they’ve built a dynasty worthy of comparison with the Bulls, Lakers and Celtics.
And the Spurs are playing with remarkable fluidity and efficiency and synchronicity. They are playing the kind of basketball that makes purists swoon. Under coach Gregg Popovich, San Antonio’s mini-United Nations lineup is a model of unselfishness in a league that often subjects viewers to a bastardization of the game.
The Spurs are making 52.7 percent of their shots, on pace for a Finals record for accuracy. They’re getting contributions from everybody but their mascot, such as these from Game 4: Nine assists from 6-8 Boris Diaw, four three-pointers in 16 minutes from Patty Mills and 14 rebounds, three steals and three blocks from Kawhi Leonard.
Even if you are a Heat fanatic, take a moment to marvel at the teamwork of the Spurs, who led by as many as 25 points in both Games 3 and 4, the first time we’ve seen such dominance since the Lakers led New Jersey by 23 in each of the first two games of a four-game Finals sweep in 2002.
What is the Heat to do? Miami must win three in a row. Even if it snatches Game 5 on Sunday in Texas, then rallies for Game 6 at home, it would still have to win Game 7 in San Antonio.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, looking dazed — and who wouldn’t? — said he would “look under the hood.”
Based on the past two games, the Heat needs more than an oil change. Let’s not go so extreme as to say overhaul, but flaws that had been camouflaged during the regular season and against Eastern Conference opponents have been exposed.
Watching the Heat on Thursday was like watching time-lapse photography of a flower, from bloom to wilt. Miami’s 30-something players looked old, especially Dwyane Wade, who made only 3 of 13 shots for 10 points. Wade struggled in the paint, where he got no elevation.
Spry throughout May, Wade appeared to be feeling the toll on his knees of four games within an eight-day span. Last year, he had a drainage procedure prior to Game 7. Can any treatment restore him in time for Sunday?
The point-guard position poses another question mark, as it has for a while. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole combined for eight points, six assists, two turnovers, one steal, zero three-pointers, zero rebounds. They got beat inside, outside, on the baseline and on the dribble-drive by Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Mills.
The Greg Oden and Michael Beasley experiments have yielded nothing.
With Chris Bosh, there was no there there. Sure, he chipped in 12 points and four rebounds, but the Heat needs muscle from that spot.
Enforcers Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem played only 10 minutes each, not enough to make an impact.
Perhaps Ray Allen will be the magic man once again with the season on the brink. He saved the Heat with his unforgettable corner three in last year’s Game 6. But it’s a measure of the Heat’s desperation if it has to depend on Allen to hit a hot streak. Might as well call a witch doctor.
The Heat’s once elite defense can’t keep up with the Spurs.
“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,” James said.
For Miami, plenty to ponder in the offseason, likely coming sooner than expected. Right now, though, it’s simple. It comes down to James. San Antonio has everything else; the Heat has a king seeking to stay on the throne.
“I don’t really get caught up in what pressure is all about,” he said. “I do whatever it takes to help our team win.”
Trailing 3-1, it’s going to take a lot. Two titles — very, very nice. How badly does James want a third?