The Miami Heat return home tonight in what they hope will be the first half of their first winning streak since May 22. If the Spurs want to make things easy, they would prefer to hand the Heat their first losing streak since January 10.
But nothing, outside of Danny Green’s stroke, has been easy in this series. Dwyane Wade’s game was in hibernation until Game 4. Same with Manu Ginobili’s and Game 5. LeBron’s greatness seems to be caught in a game of peekaboo, emerging for flashes of brilliance before wilting under the shade of the Spurs defence. Boris Diaw scored nine points in 11 minutes in Game 4 only to be an afterthought; the next game he scored one point in 27 minutes and earned universal praise.
It will be interesting to see what adjustments Heat coach Erik Spoelstra makes as the series rolls back into South Beach. Could Chris “Birdman” Andersen emerge from the ashes with the season on the line to get his first minutes since Game 3? He was effective in both Heat home games this series and Miami could use a rim protector when Chris Bosh sits, especially if LeBron continues to bound through the screens Tony Parker slaloms him through.
Many of Birdman’s minutes went to Ray Allen in San Antonio. Allen scored 21 points in 30 minutes in Game 5, but the Spurs still outscored the Heat by 12 points during his time on the court. Then again, Allen scored 14 points in 33 minutes in Game 4, only to earn a +19.
Unpredictability is the only thing you can expect from the Heat these days. Since the Eastern Conference Finals they have been like NASCAR drivers who floor it until they take the lead, slow down, hit cruise control, get passed and repeat the process, only buckling down for the final laps to ensure a first place finish.
The problem for the Heat is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t lose leads. Popovich-coached teams are 30-0 in playoff series in which they had the first chance to eliminate their opponent. In such potential close-out games, the Spurs are 30-6, six times needing two chances to end the series, each time succeeding.
Not that no team has ever comeback from down 3-2 in the Finals. Teams that have fallen to such a deficit are 7-36 in Finals history. Three teams have pulled the comeback with consecutive home games, the 2010 Lakers being the most recent example.
One other possible adjustment to keep an eye on? Spoelstra deployed a point guardless lineup at the end of Game 5 that showed signs of promise. Heat point guards—Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole—are shooting 30 per cent in this series, and struggling to defend Parker.
The Spurs have relied on a frenetic pace to capture a 3-2 lead and small Heat lineups have done little to stymie the much mentioned Spurs “pace.” The Heat may look to get big and physical in Game 6 with their season on the line.
Brawn may do the trick tonight, but precedent rests largely in the favour of a fifth Spurs championship.
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