Game 4 preview: Are Heat in trouble?
After destroying the Heat in Game 3, the Spurs now lead the NBA Finals 2-1. Can Miami even the series again, or will San Antonio go 2-for-2 in South Beach? We look ahead to Game 4 (ABC & ESPN Radio, 9 p.m. ET).
1. How much trouble are the Heat in?
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Some. The pressure is definitely on Miami to win Game 4 because they don't want to head back to San Antonio on the business end of a 3-1 series deficit. It's not the end of the world if they do. The Heat have shown they can win in San Antonio; they just need more scoring contributions beyond LeBron.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: They're in a significant amount of trouble. Dropping Game 3 means they either need to win three in a row, or take Game 7 in San Antonio. Neither of those scenarios is likely, especially considering how out of sorts some of their role players are right now. Chris Andersen looks hurt out there, and he was arguably their fourth-best player this season. This all bodes poorly.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: Considerable. The Spurs are good enough to beat Miami even when Miami plays well. They are good enough to blow the Heat out when Miami is just good. To beat them three times in four games is going to be very difficult without some cooperation from the Spurs, and they are not a team that is prone to big energy swings like the Heat are. Losing Game 3 was a real killer, I suspect.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: As Erik Spoelstra would say, the Heat aren't necessarily in trouble. They're in the Finals. There will be adversity. There will be tremendous challenges. There will be momentum swings. There will be leads. There will be deficits. The Spurs are on scholarship, too. Miami isn't entitled to rolling through the postseason free of worries. That said, a loss tonight would put the Heat in deep, deep, trouble.
Royce Young, ESPN.com: Not too much. The way Game 3 went, it appeared the Heat might just be overmatched and unable to cope with the Spurs' clinical offense. But then again, it was really about a lot of shots going in rather than not. The Heat just need Game 4, and then it's a pivotal Game 5 back in San Antonio. They've been set back, but they've been here before, too.
2. Spurs outburst: Bad Heat D or great Spurs O?
McNeill: Great Spurs O. Miami's defense in the first half of Game 3 wasn't as hyperactive as it could've been, but I wouldn't call it bad, either. Gregg Popovich was upset with his team's refusal to move the ball at the end of Game 2, so it only makes sense that passing and people movement were top-notch to start Game 3.
Strauss: I'd say it's mainly good Spurs offense. They're nearly unguardable when they go away from those Tim Duncan-Tiago Splitter lineups and just play one big. It's hard for any team to cover that much space, and it doesn't help that one of Miami's rangy big men (Andersen) is moving at half-speed out there.
Thorpe: Absolutely a combination of the two. The Spurs still had to make the shots, but those shots were easier to make because Miami just did not bring the same "fight" to the individual matchups that the Spurs brought, or that we saw from Miami in Game 2. Plus, it's not as though the Spurs have had only the one big quarter (41 in the first quarter of Game 3) -- they have put together four big quarters in the first three games. They have an elite offense full of smart players, a brilliant system, complementary pieces and a huge amount of confidence.
Wallace: Great Spurs O. By continuing to play at their pace, the Spurs have perfected a beautiful brand of basketball by getting into transition and initiating their offense early in the shot clock. It has put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Heat to keep up with the ball movement, the cutting and the flashing. It seems like a Spur was open on every possession in the first half of Game 3. No, San Antonio won't shoot 75 percent in a half again. But they have proved capable of shooting well above 50 percent in quarters time and time again in this series.
Young: Great Spurs O. There's no defense for contested shot-making. There were a few sloppy rotations and a couple of lazy transition situations, but overall, the Heat were sound defensively. It's just that great offense can beat great defense, especially when the ball is going in.
3. Kawhi Leonard's Game 3: Outlier or the real deal?
McNeill: A little of both. Leonard has been working toward performances like Game 3 for some time. He might be the hardest-working player on the team, but with so many dynamic scorers for San Antonio, he won't always get his chance. The shots he took are those he makes regularly; it's just a matter of getting the attempts.
Strauss: Outlier, just as his first two games were outliers in the opposite direction. He's a very good player with a bright future, but his offense is a bit limited right now. That's more than OK, considering the fantastic defense he provides.
Thorpe: Neither. He's not likely to be someone who will be a premier scorer all of a sudden, but he's also a better offensive player than what we saw in the first two games. He allowed the defensive challenges of dealing with LeBron to impact his offense, so in Game 3 it was clear he wanted to make a point to look to score every time he got chances to. But it's not a switch that just takes one flick to work permanently.
Wallace: Outlier, to a large extent. That was not only the best game of Kawhi's NBA career, it was the best he has performed since his high school days. Not only did he score 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, he also contributed to forcing LeBron James into seven turnovers and five fouls. It was as remarkable of a two-way performance as you'll ever see. It's tough to expect that to be the new norm for Kawhi, but that effort could spark more consistency the rest of the series.
Young: Outlier, because he's not a scorer. And certainly not a scorer on 77 percent shooting. Leonard has big talent and can be an offensive force at times, but Game 3 was his career high in points. Leonard's offensive comfort zone is 12 to 15 points on an efficient number of shots.
4. What's the Heat's biggest adjustment for Game 4?
McNeill: I don't know if it's an X's and O's adjustment so much as a mental one. San Antonio was firing on all cylinders to start Game 3 and Miami couldn't match that focus. That is likely a point of emphasis for the Heat to start Game 4 and I would expect them to have a good first half because of it.
Strauss: He might not have the energy for it, but I wouldn't be shocked if LeBron guards Tony Parker in even more situations. The Heat have to disrupt a balanced Spurs offense, and stopping Parker is the closest thing to cutting off the head of the snake.
Thorpe: In terms of adjustments with strategy, they tried and failed to get post-ups for LeBron after some floppy action. The idea was sound but the execution was shoddy. But the bigger adjustment will be their on-ball defensive pressure, which was awful in Game 3 considering what is on the line for the team who wins four games. Expect far more toughness, more bumps, more energy and more intensity from this team overall.
Wallace: Getting LeBron and Dwyane Wade to the free throw line. The Heat have to get LeBron back on the block and attacking the paint. The Spurs do have the size and bulk, with Duncan, Splitter and Boris Diaw. But LeBron and Wade have each attempted 14 free throws through three games of this series. That has to change. Also, Chris Bosh has to get more involved beyond the 12 touches he had in Game 3. But this isn't solely about offense for the Heat. Their defense has been the far bigger concern.
Young: No point guards. The Spurs like to overload on the strongside, bracketing the primary scorers like LeBron or Wade. And right now, there's no real threat on the weakside of the floor to drive and put pressure on the defense. Mario Chalmers is better than he has played, but the Heat can't afford to wait for him to snap out of it.
5. Who wins Game 4?
McNeill: Heat. Because this series appears destined to go to seven games once again. It's a simple pattern, really. One team forces the issue and wins. The losing team makes their adjustments and takes the next game. Copy and paste. Miami, upset with its intensity to start Game 3, will be sharp and aggressive in Game 4 and even the series.
Strauss: Miami. The Heat tend to play better when desperate. They're really teetering right now, though, with Chalmers and Birdman looking like zombies out there. Despite my prediction, I really wouldn't be shocked to see a Heat loss tonight.
Thorpe: My knee-jerk reaction is to pick Miami, which has not lost two straight playoff games since the Dallas Finals. That is a sick statistic. And LeBron has earned a lot of respect for how he has dealt with failure, always carrying his team when they need him most. But not only is this the best opponent he has ever faced in June, he is on a team that is forced to play an awful lot of 4-on-5 basketball, because both Chalmers and Norris Cole have been basically unplayable in their two losses. If I thought "good Mario" would show up, I'd pick Miami with confidence, but as it stands it is a toss-up.
Wallace: Heat. I think. So consider this selection a definite maybe. They have established a strong track record of responding to postseason losses with victories. They've won 13 straight games coming off a playoff loss. But I'm not convinced what the Spurs did in Game 3 was a fluke. After missing those key free throws in the fourth quarter of the Game 2 loss at home, Duncan and Parker aren't in any mood to give anything away to the Heat ever again. The Heat will need their best game of the playoffs tonight.
Young: Miami. Hard to argue against a stat as eye-popping as 48 straight playoff games without consecutive losses. Nobody is better at bouncing back than the Heat. They find that necessary desperation and play with an anxiety that creates havoc for their opponent. The Spurs are dangerous, but they had a special night in Game 3. The Heat will respond, because that's just what they do.