Game 7. No more words are necessary to describe basketball’s biggest game—a winner-take-all event in which both teams’ backs are against the wall.
For the Heat, this is the second straight series where home court advantage has been crucial, as no team since the advent of the 2-3-2 home-away format in 1985 has won Game 7 on the road.
But as hot as Miami was in blitzing their way to an NBA-high 66 wins in the regular season, they have labored since the start of the playoffs. Erik Spoelstra’s squad hasn’t won back-to-back games in a series since the Eastern Conference semifinals against the woefully undermanned Chicago Bulls. And the Heat are coming off a win in Game 6.
What do they need to do to stop the streak? Here are three keys to a Miami victory:
1. Find a way for the offense to strive with Dwyane Wade—or bench him
Yes, it’s hard to believe that Wade could be hindering the team’s offense. After all, the nine-time All-Star and former Finals MVP (2006) once led the league in scoring, but his left knee has been bothersome and so he’s been reluctant to shoot the three—to the tune of zero attempts this series. That, combined with little going on in his post-up game, has allowed the Spurs to drop back on Wade on defense, clogging the lane for LeBron James and other Heat players.
If Wade hits his mid-range jumper with consistency, he gives the team some value—like he did in Game 4. His defense has been above average, but overall the Heat need to limit his minutes and would be wise to insert him when LeBron needs a breather—provided a pair of shooters are on the floor.
2. Give Chris Andersen and Ray Allen more minutes
Allen is an obvious play after his Game 6 heroics. His backpedal-behind-the-line-then-shoot three-pointer to send the game to overtime was the impossible made easy, while his free throws to clinch the game in overtime were ice-in-his-veins perfect. In addition, he had been on fire at the end of Game 5, finishing with 21 points and hitting all four of his threes.
Andersen or “Birdman,” who brings a lot of hustle, rebounds, and defense to the table, energizes the team and crowd with his play—which was especially evident in Game 6. His energy was missed in Game 4 and Game 5 when he didn’t play.
3. Bring intensity on defense
This can’t be emphasized enough. The Heat “brought it” in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 6, per Erik Spoelstra’s wishes, and prevailed. They were also relentless in Games 2 and 4—also wins. Do it in Game 7 and they’ll be champs.
For the Spurs, the unenviable task of having to win Game 7 on the road is certainly possible—not probable. Here’s what they need to do to turn the tide:
1. Keep giving Danny Green looks
Green hit just one three–and that was all his points–in Game 6—a slump for him for sure. Yet the Spurs nearly pulled it off. Had Green had his usual night, the series would be done. He looked like he was starting to think before shooting though, which is never good, but he’s been too great this series for the Spurs to stop feeding him now.
2. Keep sagging on Wade
San Antonio’s defensive matchups on Wade have looked confusing on paper (using a power forward, Boris Diaw, to guard him?) but the strategy has worked. As long as Wade’s hesitant to shoot the three, the Spurs should continue to sag on him and force Spoelstra to find a place for him—bench or no bench.
3. Stay patient and look for an opening
The Spurs are not the favorites. They’re older, they’re slower, and they’re on the road. If both teams play their best, the Spurs lose. Despite that, they had lulled the Heat to sleep in Game 6, and despite Miami waking up for the final quarter, Tony Parker nearly pulled off the improbable with a pair of late baskets.
San Antonio is still a wiser team than the Heat, which have committed a couple of errors stemming from inexperience, like unnecessarily running their mouths pre-game (see: Chris Bosh). Should they stay smart and find an opening late in the game, it’s doubtful any team could come back a second time like the Heat did in Game 6.