Since the arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010 to form a “Big Three” with Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat have earned a reputation of thriving in adversity.
A year ago, for instance, they were seconds away from losing their NBA Finals series with San Antonio before Bosh came up with a big rebound and Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer to tie Game 6 in the closing seconds of regulation. They went on to win in overtime to tie the best-of-seven-series 3-3 and followed that up by winning Game 7 for the title.
The year before that they were down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals heading to Boston for Game 6 and potential elimination, but they won their next two to advance to the Finals, which they won over Oklahoma City in five games.
But they would appear to have put themselves in an impossible spot this year after losing Games 3 and 4 to the Spurs in Miami to fall behind in the series 3-1. Game 5 comes up Sunday in San Antonio (8 p.m. EDT, ABC).
Though Game 6 would be back in Miami should the Heat win Game 5, the potential Game 7 would be back in San Antonio.
How unlikely in that scenario would winning three in a row for the Heat be? Well, no team in NBA history has ever come back from such a deficit in the Finals in 31 previous tries. Only eight teams, the last the Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006, have ever done it at any level of the playoffs.
Under ordinary circumstances, the Heat would seem to be a good candidate to become the first team to do it in the Finals.
But these aren’t ordinary circumstances.
In the last two losses, the Spurs haven’t just won, they have dominated. The Heat seem to have no answer to the Spurs when the Spurs are whipping the ball around on offense, getting open look after open look.
They shot 57.1 percent in winning 107-86 Thursday night. Two nights earlier, they shot 59.7 percent (including a Finals record 75.8 percent in the first half) in winning 111-92.
The Heat shot (51.6 percent themselves for Game 3, but tailed off to 45.1 percent in Game 4. Take away James’ 10-of-17 performance, however, and the rest of the shot only (40.7 percent).
It’s not just team numbers that reveal the problem the Heat face.
Wade, who looked so energetic early in the series, looked older than his 32 years, making only three of 13 shots in the last outing. Bosh was a non-factor with just 12 points and four rebounds. And point guard Mario Chalmers continued to play his way out of the Heat’s future plans with another poor game (4 points on 2-of-6 shooting).
Overall, it was just an embarrassing performance for all but James, who scored 28 points despite battling stomach problems, that after being sidelined in the fourth quarter of Game 1 because of leg cramps.
The Heat, then, are not playing anywhere near the level that they would have to be to have a shot at overcoming a 3-1 deficit, especially with two of the next three games on the road.
Considering all that, a loss for the Heat in Game 5 might be considered a mercy killing.