SAN ANTONIO — You had to know the two-time defending champion Miami Heat had too much pride to just roll over. They were going to come out ready to defend their title down 3-1 and needing a win just to force a Game 6.
And they did — Miami played the best, most energized and aggressive defense they have played all playoffs, LeBron James came out on fire with 17 first quarter points and the Heat raced out to a 19-5 lead, the biggest lead the Heat have had all Finals.
But Miami has had spurts of great execution all season and through these Finals, the issue has been sustaining it against a relentless Spurs team.
They couldn’t. San Antonio climbed back, slowly at first behind Manu Ginobili (a 6-0 personal run at one point, a poster dunk on Chris Bosh later) and later with a 17-2 run sparked by Kawhi Leonard (15 first half points).
The Spurs lead 47-40 at the half and are 24 minutes from an NBA title.
This feels like a game San Antonio could just blow open in the third.
Miami has 20 points from LeBron on 6-of-12 shooting, they have 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting from everyone else. Numbers reminiscent of Game 4.
Ginobili had 14 for the Spurs, who shot 50 percent in the second quarter as they moved the ball and got good looks (the Heat sharp rotations from the opening six minutes were gone). The Heat shot 26.7 percent in the second.
San Antonio got 22 points from its bench in the first half, the Heat got 2. Not enough depth to sustain the energy levels Miami needs, but they need to find some way in the second half or this could get ugly.
LeBron James and the Heat came out playing with the desperate energy they needed a couple of games before — he started out with 15 points on 5-6 shooting, including a couple of threes.
And this defensive chase down block into the third row on Patty Mills. That should earn LeBron a tryout for USA Volleyball.
Miami’s defensive energy was much better to start the game and that got them a lead all the way up to 14 in the first quarter. The question with them is if they can sustain the energy.
As expected, Erik Spoelstra has gone to the Heat lineup that he started the second half of Game 4 with, a no point guard lineup.
Mario Chalmers has been benched and Ray Allen is starting for the Miami Heat.
Miami’s starting five is Allen, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh and Rashard Lewis. That lineup has played 9 minutes together in this Finals (they shot just 25 percent, but that’s a small sample size).
No changes for the Spurs who start Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan.
SAN ANTONIO — For the past 24 hours, when you’ve asked coach Erik Spoelstra or the Heat players what adjustments they need to make to bounce back from a 3-1 deficit against the Spurs, you get some variant of “we just need to do what we do better.” It’s not new lineups or new match ups — Game 5 Sunday night will be the 14th meeting between these teams since the start of last year’s Finals, these teams know each other.
It’s about execution and that’s what Erik Spoelstra said he has emphasized in the last 48 hours.
“We met yesterday and talked about our approach for the next 24 hours,” Spoelstra said before Game 5. “We had a good day of work the day before that. We had a good day off to clear our minds, and this is about bringing our best game of the series….
“We’re looking to start better, but regardless of what happens, we have to find a way in this game. And we need consistent minutes where we’re imposing our identity on this game, which we’ve yet to do for an entire game.”
Maybe that is because they are coming out of a soft Eastern Conference, where they didn’t have to play at their peak for 48 minutes to advance. Maybe it’s because this is Game 14 between these teams since the start of last year’s Finals and San Antonio has gotten used to the pressure and style of the Heat.
Whatever the reason, this is not the first adversity the Heat have faced and this gives Spoelstra confidence.
“I love being in the trenches with this group when you’re in situations like this,” Spoelstra said. “You reveal your character. You real what you’re made out of when you’re facing adversity. Everybody can bid in the situation that the Spurs are in right now. It’s much more revealing when you’re in a situation like this how you respond, individually or collectively. How do we respond in a game like this? I love bing in the locker room with these guys in these situations.”
We will see what the Heat locker room is like after this game. That also could be telling.
If you expected the two-time defending champions to just roll over down 3-1 to the Spurs heading into Game 5 Sunday night, well, I’m not sure what team you’ve been watching the last two years. They often need their backs against the walls for motivation.
Chris Bosh wouldn’t go the full Joe Namath and guarantee a win in Game 5 Sunday night, but he came about as close as you can expect speaking to Sekou Smith of NBA.com’s Hangtime Blog.
“We’re not going down,” he said. “So we’re going to win this game tonight … plain and simple we’re going to win this game….
“I don’t care about any guarantees we’re just going to win this game,” Bosh said. “Take it how you want it.”
What else do you expect him to say? “We plan on getting thrashed just like the last two games, we expect this will be over by halftime?”
The Heat are a proud team and one the Spurs had two games to eliminate last season and couldn’t do it. It will be three games this year and the way the teams are playing it feels like a longer shot, still you have to expect they will put up a fight in Game 5.
We’ll see if that’s enough.