SAN ANTONIO -- I boarded the roller coaster I call the Shock Factor in Bristol, Conn., the afternoon of June 3, and I've remained strapped in through Miami and now San Antonio. My psyche has been refried like Tex-Mex beans. My resolve has Heated, cooled and reHeated.
I picked the Spurs in seven but must admit my emotions have swung from Spurs in four to Heat in five to, now, Heat in six. I've covered NBA Finals dating to the late 1970s, and I can't remember more inexplicably unpredictable flips through the first four games. The Heat and Spurs have taken turns being IN BIG TROUBLE and bouncing back with dominantly desperate statements. Now it's the Spurs' turn to be overmatched and DONE -- until Sunday night's Game 5, the last of three here in the Alamo City.
My gut feeling is that this series is just getting started and will not end until it is hailed as maybe the wildest Finals ever. I'm sticking with Spurs in seven because they've been an even better road than home team and this Finals has to end with a heavy underdog beating LeBron and D-Wade where they do not lose Game 7s.
All aboard the Shock Factor
Game 1: The Spurs, forced to wait nearly 10 days, had NO CHANCE of beating the Heat in Miami. And with nine minutes left, Heat up three, it certainly appeared the home team would prevail after LeBron had requested a rare rest to start the fourth quarter. Back in came the King, who immediately began to impersonate Tiago Splitter.
What are you DOING, LeBron? Over nearly the next six minutes, the four-time MVP turned into a perimeter wallflower, hot-potato passing every pass to him. He took only one shot in that span (and missed) as the Heat fell behind by six.
The Spurs made that lead stand up, thanks in the end to Tony Parker's shot-clock bank shot. LeBron gambled as Parker stumbled, knifed in for the steal or jump ball, and allowed Parker to duck under him for the clinching jumper.
Parker: king for a day. Parker: zero turnovers (and the Spurs four total) against Miami's band of ball bandits. Parker: MVP of the playoffs so far.
Meanwhile 35-year-old Manu Ginobili made Dwyane Wade look retired, holding him to zero points in the fourth quarter on just two shots. Tim Duncan dared Chris Bosh to drift out and shoot the biggest 3-pointer of the game, and of course he missed it (along with the three others he took).
Game 1 Shock Factor on a scale of 1-10: EIGHT.
Game 2: Heat reeling, up against a Spurs machine that was just too disciplined and unified and veteran and cerebral on offense and especially defense. And there they went again, trailing the Spurs 62-61 late in the third quarter. That's when 33-5 happened.
As I said the next morning on "First Take": "No way I saw THAT coming."
The Heat blew the Spurs off the court with a 33-5 run that featured exactly zero points from Wade or Bosh. In that stretch, the Spurs' "machine" coughed up six turnovers and looked athletically and emotionally overmatched. The Heat just wanted this game more -- had to have it -- and the Spurs basically said, fine, take it.
Up 19, LeBron provided the exclamation point with the most overrated "all-time great" block ever -- on Splitter, who can set picks and pass but can barely dunk. Still, the hurricane-force statement was: You're way out of your league, San Antonio.
Game 2 Shock Factor: SEVEN.
Game 3: It felt as if the Heat just might do to the Spurs what they did to the Thunder in last year's Finals -- win four straight to close them out in five. Except this time, it felt as if the Heat would win the next three on the road. Surely LeBron and D-Wade smelled aging, low-talent blood.
San Antonio by 36, 113-77.
Said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra: "I didn't even recognize the team that was out there."
His dominators were lifeless, allowing 19 offensive rebounds. Parker and Ginobili blew past defenders as if they were cattle grazing along a Texas highway, driving and kicking to perimeter snipers who whipped passes to the most open shooter. Danny Green made seven 3s, Gary Neal six. How can a prohibitive favorite that looked so overwhelming in Game 2 look so lost 48 hours later?
Meanwhile, the Spurs dared LeBron to shoot jumpers. He went 2-for-14 outside the paint. His point totals in the first three games had now fallen from 18 to 17 to 15.
Wade again showed first-half flashes of the old "Flash," but was now averaging just 2.7 points in second halves of the first three games.
The Heat were IN TROUBLE.
Game 3 Shock Factor: TEN.
Game 4: Ex-Spur Stephen Jackson said on "First Take" that morning LeBron looked afraid to shoot jump shots. Shades of the 2007 Finals, when the Spurs dared LeBron into shooting 18-for-56 outside the paint (4-for-20 from 3) and swept the Cavs. Now the King's legacy again was threatened. If he continued to miss wide-open jumpers and the Heat fell down 3-1, would he start losing some of the respect and good will he rebuilt as last year's Finals MVP?
At the arena before the game, I spoke with a couple of Heat insiders who wondered how Pat Riley could keep LeBron long term now that D-Wade was clearly "done" -- an "old" 31-year-old with decaying knees. The Heat's Big Three was beginning to feel as if each star counted only a half.
Then Dwyane Wade happened. It almost felt as if he had come back from the dead as a 25-year-old.
LeBron certainly backed up his vow to do "whatever it takes" with a superstar performance, finally attacking from the low post and getting to the rim in the half court and on the break for the first time in the series. But this time -- crucial point -- LeBron was able to feed off the man who is still the heart, soul and guts of the Heat, the psychological Batman to LeBron's more talented Robin. Wade terrorized the Spurs on both ends: 32 points, six steals.
Where was that guy in the first three games? No idea. Maybe it took the threat of going down 3-1 for D-Wade to get interested.
Meanwhile, the Spurs feared that Parker would be severely limited by a hamstring he hurt in Game 3 -- that it could completely pull or tear on any given burst. Yet Parker displayed miraculous quickness while scoring 15 in the first half. He also looked just fine in the second half, while scoring zero.
Don't ask me.
The Spurs nearly pulled within three with 9:55 left when Boris Diaw missed a bunny putback. Then, with LeBron mostly on the bench, D-Wade hit four straight shots. Ballgame.
Late in the blowout, LeBron again felt kingly enough to do some rub-it-in, run-it-up front-running against the Spurs' backups, making three jumpers in the final 1:36, including a 3 with 22 seconds left. Talk about shameless disrespect. Miami, 109-93.
Game 4 Shock Factor: TEN.
Now the Spurs are "done" with the series tied 2-2. All I know for sure is that whatever you think will happen Sunday night will not.