The Heat looks like a team out of answers, and worse, out of belief. The Heat looks like a team out of hope, and just about out of time.
Miami’s dream of a third straight NBA championship is expiring, and it is not doing so nobly, but rather wrapped in something uncomfortably close to embarrassment. This is not ending as much as it is crashing with the sound of something broken. Something shattering.
You heard booing in the downtown bayside arena Thursday night as the Heat was crushed 107-86 in a Game 4 Finals loss that put the Spurs in 3-1 command heading back to San Antonio.
A two-time defending champion chasing a three-peat, booed by its own fans, in its own building, in an NBA Finals. The booing was neither sustained nor loud, but you heard it, and it was a jarring sound, like heckling in church. Only a reservoir of built-up goodwill kept the decibels down. Or maybe it was resignation. The fans filling the arena wore white, a postseason theme. Their team seemed to be waving a white flag, surrendering. Perhaps the fans took the cue and just couldn’t be bothered to boo more often or more loudly than they did.
Miami must now make history to win this series and keep its budding dynasty intact. No team in league history has overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit to win. None. Not once. And the Heat must now win three games in a row – two in San Antonio – against a Spurs team that just dominated Miami at home for a second straight game.
“We put ourselves in a position where it’s about making history,” said LeBron James.
Can the Heat do that?
This franchise’s earned pedigree wants to tell you yes.
The presence of LeBron alone wants to tell you the same.
The first four games in this series make a compelling argument against, though. The last two make a convincing one. At this point you wonder if Miami can muster the pride to win a Game 5 on Sunday in Texas to even force one more game back here.
“I don’t think any of us were expecting this,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We just couldn’t get into our rhythm, on either side of the ball. They’re exploiting where we’re normally good. This was the biggest surprise of the series, this game.”
Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., who sat courtside, reportedly lost $2.6 million on Thursday night by betting on Miami to win.
That made him the night’s second-biggest loser, after the Heat.
“They smashed us,” said LeBron James.
“Whipped our butt,” said Dwyane Wade.
Just about everybody but LeBron was miserable. James scored 28, and that was with an apparent stomach condition that sent him on at least two sudden breaks during the game. (Spoelstra said one was a bathroom break, the other to get an ankle taped). Sadly, James, even not feeling just right, still played circles around all of his teammates. Nobody else had more than 12 points.
James had noted the Spurs were so tough to defend because “everybody on the floor is live,” meaning a threat to score.
Not so his own team Thursday.
Dwyane Wade, lacking lift, was mostly awful with 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting. Chris Bosh scored only 12. Rashard Lewis was invisible. Mario Chalmers stunk. Again. From the bench sprang no hero.
Spoelstra hinted at lineup changes. Ray Allen? Udonis Haslem? Even Michael Beasley? Desperate times now. Whether it’s lineup stuff or schemes, the onus is on Spolestra to conjure a miracle.
“I’ve got to find a way to do a better job for my group,” said the coach.
It was LeBron, and then misery for Miami.
And it was too obvious to ignore that James came here from Cleveland to get away from the very situation that enveloped him Thursday night:
Being a superstar alone.
Having no help.
That alone makes it unavoidable that the post-mortem on Game 4 would feel like an autopsy on the season, and a look-ahead to what might be next as James, Wade and Bosh all have the option to become free agents this summer.
Just this week there was an ESPN report that Miami already had begun internally exploring what it would take to acquire the Knicks’ pending free agent Carmelo Anthony to create a Big 4.
The Heat sure could have used Melo on Thursday. Mostly they could have used a lot more passion and intensity – a tangible demonstration they still believed in the three-peat dream.
Losing this Finals, now an immense likelihood, would not mean the Big 3 or any of it will now break up this summer. Nor would it diminish the accomplishment of four straight Finals and two titles. But losing in this manner does mean club president Pay Riley must do something to retool, to add, to get younger – to get LeBron help.
Miami cannot stand pat because it reached four straight Finals and won two. Not after it got blown out of its own gym the past two games, with only everything on the line. Miami enjoyed the lead a total of 1 minute 31 seconds the past two games. The champions have never led by more than seven points this entire series.
This Finals has turned into a sporting avalanche.
“We’re supposed to be the avalanche,” as Bosh had put it on Wednesday.
This was the game Miami desperately had to win and was supposed to. History told us so.
The Heat had been on a 13-0 run following a playoff loss and had played 48 straight postseason games since last losing two in row – both streaks collapsing Thursday.
Those streaks and the resilience they represented had been the Heat’s championship signature.
Then again, defense was the Heat’s “identity,” once, but it seemed like half of San Antonio’s baskets Thursday were on such glaring defensive breakdowns that two or three Heat players would be looking at each other, dumbfounded, as the Spurs sprinted back upcourt.
Oh, and what happened to the Heat offense that led the NBA in shooting efficiency this season? Miami barely shot 40 percent Thursday. Nobody but LeBron made more than half their shots.
“Our group has been through everything you can possibly be through, except for this,” said Spolestra of this 3-1 hole.
San Antonio has proved itself clearly better in a Finals that has left Miami, a team that always had answers, still searching, and seemingly out of places to look.
LeBron had said this before Game 4:
“You’re always on edge in the postseason, but I don’t want to be concerned at this point.”
Be concerned now, Mr. James.
Be very concerned.