We’re at the exact point of the NBA Finals we were last season with the San Antonio Spurs leading the Miami Heat in the series 2-1, heading into Game 4. As you know, Miami came back to win the series in Game 7. This time around, however, feels a little different. Each team knows this series is far from over, and they’re showing it on the court… or not showing it that is.
Try to think back through the first three games of the Finals. Can you remember anyone celebrating? Can you remember a time where anyone showed any emotion other than reacting to foul call/non-call? Can you remember anyone smiling on the court, other than LeBron’s quick convo with Tim Duncan in Game 1? Based on their emotions on the court, I can’t tell if either team actually wants to win.
Is this the NBA Finals or an audition for Katniss in the Hunger Games? (The first one, obviously. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was much more emotion-filled in Hunger Games: Catching Fire.) If this were an audition for the Hunger Games, Kawhi Leonard would definitely be getting the first callback. In the first two games of the series, Leonard struggled to find any rhythm and couldn’t slow down LeBron. In Game 3, Leonard still couldn’t slow down LeBron, but Leonard exploded offensively, scoring 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, a career-high for him. And, he didn’t even smile once. Not once. I’m beginning to think Leonard won’t even smile if the Spurs win the ‘ship this season.
Watch Leonard after Manu Ginobili’s first quarter buzzer-beater:
Either, he’s never celebrated anything before… Or, Gregg Popovich only lets Patty Mills lead celebrations, and Leonard knew showing too much emotion would lead him to the bench.
Even the Miami Heat, who were Lob City before Lob City was Lob City, haven’t played with the same swagger this series. Maybe it’s out of respect for the opponent. Or, maybe it’s just the fact that there hasn’t been much to celebrate. Game 1 was insanely hot, and that could have contributed to Miami’s malaise. Game 2 was close and came right down to the wire, and, granted, the Heat did show a little emotion after Bosh’s corner three and his drive-and-dish to Dwyane Wade that sealed the game. In Game 3, the game was basically over before it started, as the Heat walked into a buzz saw and were shot out of the building by the flame-throwing Spurs.
So far, there’s been little and less for the Heat to get excited about. For a team that thrives on rhythm and getting out in transition, this is a huge problem. Not just from an emotional, keeping your-mind-in-the-game aspect, but also just finding any rhythm at all. The Spurs are so good at getting back on defense that it handicaps Miami’s offense. It starts with not turning the ball over. In Game 1, the Spurs had 23 turnovers. Since then, the Spurs have had 23 turnovers combined in Games 2 and 3. That holds Miami back and makes them play in the half-court, which hasn’t always been their biggest strength.
Along with limiting turnovers, the Spurs are also making shots. In Game 3, they didn’t miss a shot for the first ten minutes of the game. TEN MINUTES! That forces Miami to take the ball out of bounds and allows San Antonio to set up their defense and make sure their matchups are correct. It’s hard to score when the defense can get back and dig their feet in. Because they’re not getting out in transition, the Heat also aren’t getting the highlight reel dunks and hustle plays to find their rhythm and, more importantly, get the crowd going. It takes its toll on the Heat and their confidence. Look at Mario Chalmers. That dude has been clutch his entire life, and now he can’t stop fouling, turning the ball over, and missing open shots. San Antonio took the home court advantage right out the game in Game 3 by slowing the game down and making shot after shot after shot. Game 3 was the basketball version of that LMFAO and Lil’ Jon song. (You know what I’m talking about.)
In Game 4, I expect San Antonio to do basically the same thing they have in the first three games. They are three points away from leading the series 3-0, and all the pressure, ALL THE PRESSURE, is now on Miami to win Game 4. There’s no possible way the Heat could drop Game 4 tonight, fall behind 3-1 in the series, and think there was a realistic chance they could come back. The way San Antonio’s role guys play at home is too much for the Heat to overcome. If the Spurs win tonight, this series is as good as over.
With that said, there’s no way LeBron lets the Heat lose tonight. He’ll have another 35-point explosion to save the day, but you have to wonder if he can keep doing that the rest of the series or if that will even be enough. He did it in Game 2, and the Heat won by two points. The Spurs’ depth has Miami looking for answers, but the only real answers I can see are 1) LeBron has to be the best player in the series, by far, and, 2) The Spurs have to miss some shots.
There’s only so much Miami can do when the Spurs are making the right play every single time down the court. If this trend continues, the Spurs will win in five.
BUT, I DON’T WANT BASKETBALL TO BE OVER!