Here are five takeaways from the San Antonio Spurs’ 107-86 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at American Airlines Arena, which gave the Spurs a three-games-to-one lead in the series:
1. The last time a team carved up an opponent this well on this big of a stage in back-to-back games was, like, never. This was the first time a team led by at least 20 points in consecutive Finals games since the 2002 Lakers, who did it in Games 1 and 2 against the New Jersey Nets on the way to a four-game sweep. But Miami isn’t the Nets; it’s the two-time defending champion with the game’s best player competing on his home court. To watch the Spurs build another big early lead and go virtually unchallenged was simply stunning. They looked like they were playing a game in which the Heat was trying to learn the rules, like a 5-year-old playing “Monopoly” who thinks he can land on “Go” with every roll of the dice but ends up going directly to jail. The Heat is in basketball purgatory after being thoroughly outplayed on both ends of the court. Miami has been late to close out and slow to rotate on defense and has amassed more turnovers (67) than assists (62) through the first four games of the series, a big reason it has not cracked 100 points in any game. Plus, there’s that whole going one-on-five thing when Miami’s LeBron James scores 28 points in Game 4 and his fellow Heat starters combine to equal that total.
2. The series is over, right? Pretty much. Statistically speaking, teams trailing 3-1 in the Finals have gone 0-31. It’s not unthinkable to believe that Miami could play with the sense of desperation it needs to win another game and force the series back home for Game 6. The Heat has played its best two games of the series at the AT&T Center, where the Spurs have been solid but unspectacular. But having a Game 6 on the court where Miami has just repeatedly embarrassed itself may not be much solace, especially considering the extra motivation the Spurs would have to atone for their Game 6 disaster last season and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in South Beach.
3. It’s going to be hard to pick a Finals MVP if the Spurs win. Forward Kawhi Leonard has been their best player the last two games, his aggressive play on both ends of the court changing the complexion of series. Tim Duncan has been Mr. Reliable and would probably be the sentimental favorite to be the MVP, but you can’t discount Tony Parker’s contributions or even the play of Boris Diaw, whose crisp passing and basketball savvy have been a difference-maker since he moved into the starting lineup beginning with Game 3. Winning the award would give Duncan an unprecedented distinction: first Finals MVP in three separate decades.
4. Might the Heat want Dwyane Wade to opt out this summer after the way he looked in Game 4? We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk up his three-for-13 shooting to having a really, really bad night. But more troubling than his awful statistics was that he looked slow, unresponsive and incapable of finishing at the rim. If it’s just a one-time thing then it’s no biggie; if it’s emblematic of what the Heat can expect the rest of his career, then Wade might be closer to the end than anyone imagined after his strong play earlier in these playoffs.
5. There is one potential downside to a Spurs title. Duncan and Coach Gregg Popovich are both under contract for the 2014-15 season, but there’s always the chance they could say, “It’s been fun, see ya!” and call it a career after combining to win a fifth championship. Here’s betting they would come back for at least one more season given the unbelievably high level the ageless Spurs have played at all season. They are shooting 54.2% in the Finals, putting them on pace to hold the record, and their ball movement is probably shattering all sorts of analytical records.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times