Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals will feature the Miami Heat’s last-ditch effort to stave off elimination against Tim Duncan and a surging San Antonio Spurs squad.
After a heartbreaking 98-96 loss in Game 2, the Spurs bounced back with strong performances in Games 3 and 4. San Antonio’s 107-86 victory in Game 4 on Thursday earned them a 3-1 series lead over a Miami squad that has struggled to interrupt their offensive sets.
San Antonio has been utterly dominant; they’re just the second team in league history to win back-to-back games in the NBA Finals by a margin of 19 points or more. Still, it’s hard to see the Heat lose three NBA Finals games in a row, particularly with players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in tow.
Here are six things to look for when the Spurs and the Heat meet in Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals, which will air on Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT.
1. Can Kawhi Leonard Keep It Up?
A virtual afterthought in the first two games of the series, the 22-year-old has been the centerpiece of the Spurs offense in Games 3 and 4, scoring 29 and 20 points, respectively. He’s also been efficient, hitting 17 of his 25 shots over that period. For a limited Heat defense that was already struggling to contain Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the addition of yet another scoring threat may ultimately prove to be their undoing.
2. Where’s The Help?
LeBron James has been his usual aggressive, dominant self, but the other two members of Miami’s “Big 3” haven’t contributed nearly enough on offense. James scored 28 points in Game 4, while Wade and Bosh combined to score just 22 points. Wade was particularly off track, converting on just three of his 13 shot attempts.
Ray Allen, Miami’s other top scoring threat, was equally ineffective; he scored just eight points in 30 minutes of action in Game 4. For Miami to have a legitimate chance at a comeback, LeBron’s supporting cast has to play a bigger role.
3. Win or Go Home
Even if Miami does bounce back, they’ll have to contend with history to complete a comeback. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. Further, Gregg Popovich-led Spurs teams are 10-0 during series in which they achieve a 3-1 lead, while the Heat have never faced this situation in their “Big 3” era, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
4. Shooting The Lights Out
The Spurs have churned out superhuman offensive efforts in each of the last two games; they shot 59 percent from the field in Game 3 and 57 percent in Game 4. Popovich appears to have Miami’s defense figured out, so it’s on Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to make the necessary adjustments in Game 5.
5. In Boris We Trust
Boris Diaw, a journeyman forward who was considered to be on the tail end of his NBA career when the Spurs claimed him off waivers two years ago, has been a difference-maker this postseason. The 31-year-old has been San Antonio’s most effective passer, spent extended minutes guarding key Heat players and generally served as a catalyst for the Spurs offense.
Diaw had nine assists in Game 4; as a team, the Spurs outpassed the Heat 380-267. Ball movement has been the key to their offense in this series, and the Heat have to lock up Diaw to change that.
6. San Antonio’s "Big 3"
Regardless of whether or not they close out the Heat in this series, this may be the final deep postseason run for San Antonio’s version of the “Big 3” -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan turns 39 next April, Ginobili is 36 and Parker deals with ankle and knee injuries on a near-constant basis.
If San Antonio wins Game 5, it will mark the fifth NBA title for Duncan and Coach Popovich, and the fourth for Ginobili and Parker. Moreover, the Spurs will have the chance to win Game 5 (and the series) in front of their home fans at the AT&T Center.