The San Antonio Spurs have moved to the brink of winning their fifth NBA championship, beating the Miami Heat 107-86 to take Game 4—their second straight beatdown of the Heat in Miami. If Game 4 had been a boxing match, the referee would’ve stopped the fight at halftime.
Just like in Game 3, Kawhi Leonard was huge for the Spurs at both ends, filling every corner of the box-score with 20 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. The Heat players are going to see Kawhi in their nightmares. Boris Diaw, a revelation since being inserted into the starting lineup—spreading the floor in a way Tiago Splitter can’t—flirted with a triple-double, while Patty Mills poured in 14 points off the bench. Once again the Spurs’ Big 3 didn’t need to be spectacular—it was a true team effort in which every player contributed. And while the Spurs didn’t shoot 75 per cent in the first half (as they did in Game 3), they still managed to shoot 57 per cent from the field for the game—mighty impressive.
Regarding that last stat, it has become abundantly clear that the Heat have no answer to the Spurs’ pulsating offence—none whatsoever. Whether it was Tony Parker getting to an open spot 12 feet from the basket, Leonard driving to the rim, or Danny Green shooting from the corner off a crazy Diaw feed, every Spurs shot appeared to be an open one. Rarely did they force up a bad shot—if the Heat shut down one option, it was on to the next offensive set.
At times the Heat have lost shooters in the corners and failed to get back in transition, but there’s a good chance they’re facing one of the greatest offensive teams in NBA history. Sometimes you’re simply outmatched. As Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently asserted: the Heat are making mistakes, but they’re being forced into those mistakes by the Spurs’ breathtakingly good offence.
But while the Spurs’ offence continues to purr, their defence was equally impressive on Thursday night. The Spurs held the Heat to just 45 per cent from the floor, and other than a small LeBron-led surge at the beginning of the third quarter, they could not get anything going. The Spurs consistently shaded over a help defender when Wade or LeBron drove to the basket, and their rim protection against that duo was exceptional—some of the best ever played against the Heat. When Duncan and Leonard weren’t blocking shots at the rim, they were altering them and throwing the Heat players off their stride at the basket.
Despite dealing with stomach issues (that’s a euphemism) all game, LeBron James was the only Heat player to get anything going. James was again defended brilliantly by Leonard, but he finished with 28 points—19 of those coming in the third quarter when no other Heat player could buy a bucket. In fact, the Heat began to look a lot like the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers—a one-man show.
Miami needed Chris Bosh to show up after a quiet Game 3 and he didn’t—after a brief opening salvo, Bosh disappeared. And the Heat got next to nothing from their bench. Spoelstra tried to experiment at the beginning of the second half, going super-small with Ray Allen playing small forward and LeBron at the four, but nothing worked. The Heat got crushed in every facet of the game, including on the glass—San Antonio out-rebounded Miami 44-27.
A big concern for the Heat at the present time—a big concern among many big concerns, to be fair—is the play of Dwyane Wade. The future Hall-of-Famer looks shot—he’s a shell of himself. Wade went three of 13 from the field in Game 4 and he had no lift to his game whatsoever—he couldn’t finish at the rim and the Spurs defenders picked his pocket more than once. LeBron James cannot play 48 minutes a game, but whenever he’s off the floor in these Finals the Heat have gotten killed. Miami desperately needs Wade to lead the team at both ends when LeBron sits. Right now, he doesn’t seem physically capable of taking on that responsibility.
Heading back to San Antonio for Game 5 on Sunday night, the Heat have their backs against the wall. They haven’t lost back-to-back games in the playoffs since the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, and no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. All signs point to a Spurs series win.
If the Heat want to even so much as extend this series, let alone win it, they’re going to need a monster performance from LeBron and some contributions from the supporting cast. Mario Chalmers has been awful, Bosh has been mostly invisible and Wade has blown hot and cold—although right now he’s blowing at arctic levels. Every starter needs to contribute for the Heat.
And the Spurs? They can do no wrong at present. They’re playing championship-level basketball at both ends of the floor and getting huge contributions from players who have taken gargantuan leaps in their development throughout the season and these Finals. It might not be too long before people start to speak of Kawhi Leonard as the best player on his team, or Patty Mills as a starting point guard (he’s a free-agent this summer).
One more big game from Popovich’s boys and the road to redemption—a road started on after last season’s devastating loss—will be complete.