The Miami Heat faced yet another huge test in these NBA Finals, trying to avoid going down 3-1 in games to the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat delivered in a big way, playing sound basketball throughout, hitting the boards and finally pulling away in the fourth quarter to get a 109-93 win in Game 4 and even this series at two games apiece.
THE RETURN OF THE BIG THREE
It felt like last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals. Miami was down 2-1 and playing Indiana on the road. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade took over a close game and delivered spectacular performances. It was the same last night. LeBron had 33 points/11 rebounds, while Wade had 32 points. Combined, the pair shot 29-for-50 from the field for 58 percent. Then throw in Chris Bosh, who played his best game of the postseason, with 20 points/13 rebounds. It’s been a long time since we watched Miami’s Big Three all play well in unison, and they came together at the most critical time.
When the stars are producing like that, there are not enough shots for role players to make a significant impact on the offensive end. But I thought the Heat should be pleased that Mario Chalmes got untracked and buried a couple three-point shots. Miami didn’t need the three-ball last night, but they likely well before these Finals are out. Chalmes shooting the ball well would be even better for Miami than Ray Allen, Shane Battier or Mike Miller doing so. Why? Because Chalmes is a younger, more versatile basketball player, who can help you in other ways. The other trio is older, pure outside shooters.
SAN ANTONIO DOESN’T REBOUND
The sub-head says it all. Miami beat the Spurs on the glass to the tune of 41-36. The biggest culprit was Tim Duncan, who had just five boards, while Kawhi Leonard—a beast on the glass so far this series—had only seven. And don’t get me started on the complete failure of Tiago Splitter to even remotely impact the game, save for his stupid Game 2 decision to try and windmill dunk in a crowded lane and deservedly having LeBron stuff it back in his face. I’d like to see Gregg Popovich continue Game 4’s pattern of giving Boris Diaw some of those minutes.
Popovich clearly hedged his bets when it came to the use of Tony Parker. The point guard with the sore hamstring played well early and ended with 15 points/9 rebounds. But the 31 minutes he logged were the lowest of any competitive game in these playoffs—this one was tight into the fourth quarter and the only times Parker ended up below 35 previously were in genuine blowouts. You get the feeling that the Spurs were going to put Parker out there, and if the chance to stick the dagger in was there, to go for it. But otherwise to play it safe. Even when the game was close this had the feel of being Miami’s night, and I think the decision to hedge the bet was a smart one.
In that light, the most significant factor in Game 5 might be that it’s not until Sunday. That’s two days, rather than one, for Parker to get his hammy healthy. As for the fifth game, could David Stern have scripted this any better-he’s got a prime-time Sunday night battle for control of the series all set and some genuine doubt—presuming Parker’s healthy—about who’s going to win the championship. Furthermore, the fact that San Antonio has played from ahead in the series, only heightened the drama in Games 2 & 4. No commish in pro sports has ever orchestrated a postseason better than Stern, and the outgoing boss might be having a better last hurrah than Ray Lewis did with the Baltimore Ravens.
Game 5 tips off at 8 PM ET on ABC, an hour earlier than the weeknight telecasts. TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary comes back Monday when we know who’s one game from a title.