The revelers who had lingered along Biscayne Boulevard hours after Game 3 of the NBA Finals were gone after another game and another defeat two days later, vanishing just like their beloved team.
The party may be over in South Beach, and not just because the Miami Heat probably isn’t going to win a third consecutive title.
This could be it for the Big Three, rumored to be on the verge of becoming a Big Four when actually it may have been reduced to a Big One in its final incarnation.
LeBron James was like a king trying to rule without any knights or squires during the Heat’s 21-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Miami trails, three games to one, and could be done for the season, if not forever in its present form, as soon as Game 5 on Sunday in San Antonio. None of the previous 31 teams facing as similar series deficit in the Finals has come back to win.
Something is horribly amiss when James finishes with 28 points and his four fellow starters combine to only match that total. Wait, it gets worse: James scored 19 of the Heat’s 21 points in the third quarter, a Mario Chalmers layup accounting for the balance.
Why would James possibly want to go through another season with a starting point guard (Chalmers) who might be fourth string on the Spurs; a shooting guard (Dwyane Wade) who may have finally fossilized before our eyes in Game 4; a power forward (Chris Bosh) who is oddly underutilized; and a bench that deserves a demotion?
You want to anoint proposed newcomer Carmelo Anthony as the savior? Surely that would help a defense that looked as if it were playing checkers to the Spurs’ chess in back-to-back home defeats by an average of 20 points.
Miami’s weaknesses were masked for months by the Febreze of the Eastern Conference, the stench of so many shortcomings covered by scads of games against the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. Even so, it was telling that the Heat lost 12 more games than it did last year, when it won a second consecutive championship.
The inescapable reality is that while the East festers like a Donald Sterling lawsuit, the Western Conference continues to strengthen. Even if next season is the end of the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili Spurs as we know them, Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Golden State, Portland and Houston are all on the verge of becoming championship-level teams.
Even more troubling than the Heat’s recent dysfunction on the court is its apparent disconnect off it.
Said Bosh after Game 4: “Right now I think we just need to go home and do some soul-searching or do whatever it is that guys need to do and get it together.”
Said James, a few minutes later: “Soul-searching, there won’t be much of that. There won’t be much of that at all for me.”
James also seems to be reading from a different script than his coach, Erik Spoelstra.
Said Spoelstra: “We’ll lay everything out, look under the hood and see what we need to do.”
Said James, when apprised of Spoelstra’s quote: “That shouldn’t happen in the Finals. That should happen from day one.”
Sounds like a group hug is in order.
If “The Heatles,” as they have come to be known, want to become a Fab Four with the addition of Anthony this summer, they’ll all have to opt out of their contracts and take massive pay cuts.
A smarter option might be to opt out and come back at reduced rates so that the Heat can add two or three mid-level players and avoid the top-heavy approach that threatens to topple their championship run. The list of available unrestricted free agents will include Kyle Lowry (who made $6.2 million in 2013-14), Spencer Hawes ($6.5 million) and Rodney Stuckey ($8.5 million), each of whom would provide the kind of quality depth Miami sorely lacks.
For all its been-there, won-that posturing amid back-to-back blowouts, the Heat is on the verge of going somewhere it never envisioned as recently as two days ago: back to South Beach empty-handed.
It figures to be a lonely stroll.