Do you know the odds against the Miami Heat in trying to come back from being down 3-1 in the NBA Finals?
We haven't seen a team in NBA history come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to end up as champions. With the Heat down 3-1 heading back to San Antonio for Game 5, it looks like the proverbial goose is cooked and being served up with all the trimmings. The Heat's quest for a three-peat was already a historical challenge, but adding the necessity of coming back from a historical improbability and doubling up on their historical accomplishments appears to be too much to consider.
In the 16 quarters that have been played in this series, the Heat have won six of those quarters. A couple of those quarters have come in the midst of gigantic blowouts, rendering their efforts nearly meaningless. LeBron James has had monster quarters in each of the last two games and they've meant nothing. Any potential run to get back into the game is sapping energy, leaving the Heat vulnerable to the inevitable answer by the Spurs. The Heat set themselves up for failure because the Spurs stifle their success.
If the Heat are going to make history and win this series, it starts and ends with effort. It's not to say the Heat aren't trying in this series, but their anticipation and execution of a defensive game plan has been poor at best throughout the majority of this series. It's the little things such as navigating screens to close out on shooters in the corners, blitzing pick-and-rolls to force them to side instead of allowing the ball handler to turn the corner, and finding ways to turn San Antonio mistakes into momentum-shifters for the Heat.
While the merits of whether momentum is a real thing, the psychology around it certainly seems to prevail in this series. It's not so much a guiding force of good deeds and correct decisions on the court as it is the continued clarity and focus that can be strengthened with each tangible progression. You see the Spurs in this series making the correct passes, which are leading to made baskets. It reaffirms the game plan of executing their sets, no deviating from the system, and you'll watch the lead grow. Whereas for the Heat, they can troubleshoot as much as they want, but unless they're consistently breaking up the Spurs' offense or they're finding scoring runs of their own, the overall morale of the team has fallen.
If the odds truly are for people who can't do it and the Heat want to prove they can, what they must do is find a way to correct the wrongs. Every quarter of Game 5 has to be the fourth quarter of Game 2 when the Heat out-executed the Spurs or a dialed back version of the third quarter of Game 3 when the Heat came tearing back from a large deficit.
In the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Heat took the Spurs out of the paint by containing dribble penetration and staying on shooters. There wasn't any moping and there wasn't gambling for steals. The Heat played solid, rooted defense that showed the Spurs not even ball movement could get the defense off its string. The result was the Heat forcing missed shots, the Spurs relying too heavily on outside shooting without the inside game for balance, and the Heat not facing the Spurs' half court defense completely set up each time down the floor.
In the third quarter of Game 3, it was a lot of the same type of effort. Although played with more panic and less control, the Heat saw the rabid defensive effort we were used to seeing over the past two championship runs in which athleticism and anticipation of a team well scouted was prepared to turn skirmishes in the open floor into backbreaking defensive intensity. One play would fuel another. It was a backbreaking Marco Belinelli 3-pointer that turned the impressive quarter into an eventual afterthought, but the intensity and effort were there.
The Heat need to spread the floor on offense and give the Spurs a taste of their own medicine. Either Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole has to be a factor. Ray Allen has to be lethal. James Jones can come along and test out his firing motion. Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier have to be disruptive on one end and painstakingly accurate from outside on the other. The floor must be spread for LeBron to do his thing (and his thing should probably include more passing than we've seen). And if Dwyane Wade has to play, he has to stop pump-faking, stop halting the offense with his dribbling and either attack the paint or move the ball to someone else.
The cliché phrase of "one game at a time" becomes the reality for the Heat. They must think in terms of the present and nothing to do with winning three games in a row against a team that is treating them like the Washington Generals. The Spurs had one three-game losing streak all season long this past season, started by a loss in Miami in late January. They've had two two-game losing streaks in the playoffs, once to the Mavericks in the first round and the Thunder in the conference finals.
When the Heat closed out the Pacers in Game 6, it came from a furious defensive effort that crippled Indiana's attack. The problem for Miami is this Spurs team is disciplined, versatile and constantly moving. You have to find a way to make them stagnant, much like they did with the Pacers. After that victory, the Heat's locker room was abuzz with how they finally locked in on defense, something that hadn't been done consistently all season. Perhaps it's the wear and tear of five seasons of basketball over the last four years when you factor in playoff games. Or perhaps it's simply the Heat are outclassed and too vulnerable against the Spurs' system.
There isn't a set schematic the Heat haven't tried or a defensive philosophy that applies here that Miami hasn't attempted yet. This is simply about showing resolve, pride and a mindset that applies to those capable of coming back from historic doom to complete a third straight title.
We know the Heat have the personnel to make history, but they certainly don't have the odds in their favor -- whether Miami believes the odds apply to them or not.