MIAMI — If there was any doubt about the mastery and brilliance of the San Antonio Spurs or whether they are improved from the team that was seconds from a championship a year ago, they erased any skepticism with their stellar performance Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Two days after overwhelming the Miami Heat to take the series lead, the Spurs did it again with much of the same defensive execution and offensive prowess, using the passing of Boris Diaw, playmaking of Tony Parker, and strength of Kawhi Leonard to race to a 107-86 victory in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
San Antonio has a commanding three games to one lead and can win its first championship in seven years Sunday evening at home. And it appears the once-mighty Heat, with the game’s most dominant player and potentially four Hall of Famers, have nothing left.
LeBron James was a one-man show for Miami, scoring 28 points on 1o-for-17 shooting while his fatigued fellow starters were 11 for 34, including 3 for 13 shooting from one-time cornerstone Dwyane Wade. Although the Heat have reached four consecutive NBA Finals and are the two-time defending championships, that run appears close to conclusion.
No NBA team has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.
“I mean, they smashed us, two straight home games, [we] got off to awful starts,” James said. “They came in and were much better than us in these two games. It’s just that simple. We’re still a confident bunch, even though our heads are lowered down right now.”
The Spurs were the model of teamwork and balance, with no player scoring more than 20 points (Leonard), but six scoring at least 8 points. On a night when the Spurs needed scoring from the backcourt, Parker delivered with 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting and Patty Mills constantly burned Miami with open 3-pointers, adding 14 points and four 3-pointers.
After trailing by 19 at halftime, James opened the third quarter by scoring 10 of Miami’s first 12 points, cutting the deficit to 61-48. After a San Antonio timeout, the soldout crowd sensed a major rally and were ready for the vintage Heat to arrive.
They didn’t make the trip. The Spurs restored order with a 7-0 run, then picked apart the Miami defense behind skilled swingman Diaw, who either delivered pinpoint passes or scored on the post against an overwhelmed Wade.
“Yeah [the Spurs] just, they played great,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And I can honestly say I just don’t think any of us were expecting this type of performance. They were great, you have to give them credit for that. We just couldn’t get into a rhythm on either side of the ball and then it just went from there.
“I’ve got to do a better job for my team. San Antonio is playing great. They’re moving the basketball. They’re exploiting where we’re normally good, so we have to do a better job. Even when we’ve made adjustments, they’ve still been able to stay in a rhythm and go from there.”
Wade looked lethargic the entire evening, missing nine of his first 10 shots. The Spurs pulled away in the third quarter, extending the lead to 24 points behind the mastery of Parker and hustle of Leonard, who has scored 49 points in the past two games.
The Spurs have spent the past 72 hours giving the Heat a lesson in fundamentals, ball movement, and unselfish play. Of San Antonio’s 40 baskets Thursday, 25 were assisted and nine Spurs registered an assist.
The Heat relied strictly on James through the first three quarters, as he amassed 28 of his team’s 57 points. Through three quarters, James was 1o for 15 from the field; his teammates were 10 for 36. A team that has relied on talent and balance the past four years is sputtering.
“It’s not on my shoulder, it’s not,” James said. “I understand I get the limelight in the press and all that but it’s not all on my shoulder. I take a lot of it, but I do it for my teammates and I want them to put a lot of pressure on me in that sense.”
While Wade looked rejuvenated through the first three games (21-for-39 shooting, 18.3 points per game), he appeared to labor throughout Game 4, lacking his normal lift and missing shots near the basket.
“I just missed them; you know I’m a very accurate shooter, so I don’t like missing,” Wade said. “I’m not used to missing around the basket. But law of averages, man. The ball just didn’t go in. But I’ll take those same opportunities the next game, for sure.”
The Spurs are still smarting over losing Games 6 and 7 in Miami last season, and losing the series, so they were hardly giddy over the workmanlike victory. With the revived 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format, San Antonio returns home for Game 5 with a chance to end the series.
But they have a healthy respect for the Heat.
“We didn’t want to rest and say, hey, ‘We’ve got one and let’s just rest on that.’ We came in here tonight and had great focus, put a great game together, and came out with two,” center Tim Duncan said. “[But] they’re a very, very good ballclub. Obviously, they’re the champions, and they’re going to come out and show a lot of fire and come with a lot of energy. We’re going to use our home court and we’re going to come with the same focus that we did in these last two games, and hopefully close it out at home.”