Turn out the lights, the NBA Finals party is over. The Spurs seized control of the series on Thursday night, and broke the will of the entire Heat team in the process. Here’s how they did it; plus a look at how the Miami can recover (hint: they can’t). It’s the Flagrant 2 for Friday:
The Spurs Make A Statement
There will be plenty of searching for explanations following the Spurs’ 107-86 throttling of the Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals – Miami’s apparent fatigue, LeBron’s mid-game bathroom break – though perhaps the only possible answer is this: San Antonio is the superior team. And they’re staked to a 3-1 series lead heading back home.
Led once again by Kawhi Leonard (20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks), but certainly not lacking in other potential heroes – Patty Mills had 14, Boris “the Doughy Distributor” Diaw added 9 rebounds and 9 assists – the Spurs dominated from the opening tip, grabbing advantage of the series with a total team effort that was, literally, total: all 13 of their active players scored.
In other words, it was a “Spurs Victory” in every sense of the term, one may have been better than their record-setting effort in Game 3. San Antonio shot 57 percent from the field, led by 19 at the break and never let the Heat get closer than 13 in the second half. Leonard silenced the crowd with that thunderous put-back slam, Diaw dished out nifty behind-the-back assists, and with his 10 points and 11 rebounds, Tim Duncan notched his 158th playoff double-double, a mark that moved him past Magic Johnson for first all time.
They were also dominant on defense, holding Miami to just 36 points in the opening half on 35 percent shooting (the Heat shot 45 percent for the game). They eliminated everyone not named LeBron James and played with a tenacity of a team down in a series, not one fresh off the heels of a defining win. They whooped ’em.
Is It Over For The Heat?
It certainly looks that way. After two-straight blowout losses at home, the Heat have more questions than answers. LeBron James once again led all scorers with 28, but he got little help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and even less from the team’s cast of supporting players. James also scored 19 of Miami’s 21 points in the third quarter, and did so after a much-discussed trip to the restroom (ESPN’s Doris Burke was all over this one), but did not score a point in the fourth.
Which goes to the larger issue: the Heat looked tired. Searching for a spark of any kind, coach Erik Spoelstra dug deep into his bench, giving minutes to Udonis Haslem, James Jones and Toney Douglas. We’re pretty sure that we even saw Greg Oden in there at one point. Nothing worked, and the Heat delivered a listless performance in front of a stunned home crowd that left plenty early … but not before taking several opportunities to boo the team’s lack of effort.
It’s the first time the Heat have lost back-to-back playoff games since the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, a series they’d go on to win in seven games. If they hope to do the same in this series, they’ll have to make history: There have been 31 teams who have faced a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and all 31 have lost the series. If the Heat feel tired now, just look at what they’ve got in front of them.
Game 5 is Sunday in San Antonio.
Croatia coach Niko Kovac went apocalyptic following a controversial foul call that gave Brazil a penalty kick (and all the momentum) in Thursday’s World Cup opener. “If that was a penalty, we should be playing basketball,” Kovac said. “That is shameful.” Preach, dude. … Martin Kaymer leads the U.S. Open by three after one round, shooting a 5-under 65. … It is terrible being on the New York Mets.