There is no such thing as a “throw-away” game in the NBA Finals. Every game counts in a best-of-seven series. That being said, tonight’s Game 5 is a must-win contest for San Antonio.
Why a must-win? For one thing, a loss tonight would mean the Spurs would have to win two straight on Miami’s home court to close out the series—no team in NBA Finals history has won both Games 6 and 7 on the road.
And then there’s the matter of Tony Parker’s strained hamstring. Parker has admitted himself how close it is to being torn. While the Spurs are in a tough situation with him either way, having to extend the series to a seventh game would put even more pressure on the player who runs Gregg Popovich’s offense.
So, here’s what the Spurs need to do to win:
1. Limit the turnovers. This normally goes without saying, but they were so careful with the ball in Game 1 (NBA Finals record-tying four turnovers) such that they were able to overcome a better shooting game by the Heat (43.6 percent to 41.7 percent) as well as a -9 in the rebounding department. Plus, Miami had four more assists and the same number of fouls.
2. Respect Dwyane Wade. Wade is not the player he was in 2006 when he won Finals MVP for the NBA-champion Heat, while averaging 34.7 points per game. Whether he can get back to that level when healthy is unknown. But Popovich had a couple of instances in Game 4 where he tried to get away with using a power forward/center to guard Wade.
Surely Wade noticed how little Popovich thought of him anymore and summoned up his best in burning the Spurs for 32 points, off of 14-for-25 shooting. Surely he’s learned his lesson.
3. Get Manu Ginobli going. Ginobli has averaged 7.5 points per game in the four NBA Finals games, thus far. The 35-year old isn’t what he once was, but if the Spurs can split four games with Miami despite little production from Ginobli, imagine what they could do if he’s on.
For the Heat, they’re in the enviable position of knowing they have the home court advantage—win or lose tonight. To win, here’s what they need to do:
1. Turn up the defensive pressure. Miami was relentless on defense in Game 4. This led to several early fast-break baskets for LeBron James early on, which then got him going offensively. Once James got in a rhythm, he was able to start knocking down jump shots—the same shots he was missing earlier in the series.
2. Keep feeding Dwyane Wade. Wade has looked good in the first half in each of the four games of the series. However, he kept going in the second half of Game 4, and the 1-2 punch with him and James was unstoppable. Wade is surely hoping a power forward takes turns guarding him in Game 5.
3. Go with the hot hand off the bench. The Heat started Mike Miller in Game 4 after the sharpshooter hit all five of his threes in Game 3. Miller didn’t score, but was clearly respected by the Spurs’ defense, opening up the lane for Wade and James.
Ray Allen came off the bench and scored 13 points, while Shane Battier was fast on defense in his nine minutes of play. The Heat have some good players on the bench and need to keep playing whoever is hot.