The defending champs didn’t stay down for long. With their backs against the wall, the Miami Heat rebounded to post a strong 109-93 victory against the San Antonio Spurs and reclaim home-court advantage in the series. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James awoke from dreadful slumps to each score more than 30 points, attacking relentlessly and efficiently against a Spurs team that just didn’t seem to have the Heat’s sustained energy. The Spurs lost the turnover battle, were beaten on the glass, and were just generally impotent in the second half when the Heat made their run. San Antonio won games 1 and 3 through ball control and through domination on the glass, where they have a significant advantage. In this game, despite a great first half from Tony Parker, the Spurs played a sloppy game. They couldn’t rely on another excellent offensive rebounding performance from Kawhi Leonard either; Wade and James showed a renewed commitment to keeping him off the glass, holding him to only 1 offensive rebound after he recorded 16 in the first three games. Danny Green and Gary Neal stayed hot from distance, combining to shoot 6-9 from 3, but their opportunities were limited by a Heat defense determined to shut them down.
The performances by Wade and James, while they did contrast from the pattern set by the first 3 games, were to be expected. James is the best player in the game, and he made the necessary adjustments to beat the Spurs’ paint-packing defense, knocking down 8 of 11 shots outside 10 feet. James has improved both his jump shot and his mental approach to the game over the course of the season; the Spurs couldn’t expect to contain him through the entire series. Wade also attacked the basket with aplomb, establishing a rhythm that also carried over to the defensive end, where he kept Danny Green to only 10 points. While the defensive lapses that allowed the Heat’s two superstars to get hot are concerning, the lack of production from the Spurs’ own Big 3 should be even more alarming. Tim Duncan scored 20 points, but had only 5 rebounds and 1 assist, and didn’t play interior defense at the level the Spurs expect of him. Tony Parker had 15 points and 6 assists by halftime, but was unable to carry that momentum into the 2nd half, as he was held scoreless for the rest of the game. And Manu Ginobili had another cold shooting night, finishing 1-5 from the field over 26 minutes of playing time. Spurs role players like Gary Neal, Danny Green, and Boris Diaw have stepped up and have outplayed the Heat bench in this series, for the most part, but the Spurs need more contribution from their stars in order to win. Duncan hasn’t had a
dominant game since Game 1, despite facing a weak Heat interior D that allowed Roy Hibbert to go off in the Eastern Conference Finals. Parker may well be hampered by his hamstring injury, but he will need to fight through the pain and continue playing well for all 4 quarters. And while Ginobili has made some incredible passes within the offense, the Spurs need his scoring. He will need to snap out of whatever funk has gripped him and start looking for his own offense.
A theme that we may see play out in this series is regression to the mean. For example, Gary Neal, a 35.5% 3-point shooter in the regular season, has shot 55% from deep in the Finals. Danny Green, while he did shoot 43% from 3 during the regular season, has shot a blazing 68% from 3 in the Finals. They shouldn’t be expected to continue at this pace. On the other side of the spectrum, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili put up solid stats in the regular season, but are having inefficient, forgettable finals. It’s more likely that they will rebound and play like their usual selves for the rest of the series than to continue to drag down the Spurs. Regardless of how they play offensively, the Spurs’ first adjustment going into Game 5 should be on defense. They have to limit the Heat’s Big 3 before addressing any other concerns. If Lebron gets hot from outside, the Spurs may have to abandon their approach from the first 4 games and start respecting his jumper. San Antonio will need to make quick defensive rotations in order to compensate for the driving lanes opened by the stretched-out defense. They couldn’t do so in Game 4, and Wade took advantage.
The Spurs, in Game 3, showed that they can bounce back from a game in which they were dominated. By all means, the Heat are a more talented team than the Spurs, but Gregg Popovich’s system has put the Spurs on the Heat’s level. When it seemed that the Warriors might stun the Spurs in the Western Conference Semis, Pop made adjustments and the Spurs booted Golden State from the playoffs. When it seemed that the Heat might take over the series after Game 2, Pop made adjustments and the Spurs crushed the Heat by 36 in Game 3. Tim Duncan, arguably the best power forward to ever play the game, will need to step up. Tony Parker, arguably the best point guard in the game today, will need to step up. Gregg Popovich will have his veterans and his role players prepared to face whatever challenges the Heat throw at them. If the Heat take Game 5, they will have a 3-2 lead going back to Miami, where they haven’t lost two in a row since the 2010-2011 season. As much as every game in this series has been a “must-win” for at least one of the participants, this game is definitely a must-win for the Spurs.fensive rotations if they are forced to play out on him and open up lanes to the basket. With this being said, there aren’t many defensive schemes that can stop the Heat’s Big 3 if LeBron is playing on top of his game. The game may once again come down to the individual matchup between LeBron and Leonard, who will need to rebound from an ordinary Game 4.