Ultra volatile NBA Finals turn to next chapter
By BRIAN MAHONEY
SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker’s hamstring, not Dwyane Wade’s knee, is the current chief injury concern.
Manu Ginobili, not Chris Bosh, is mired in the slump of the moment.
Things change quickly at the NBA Finals, and with everything suddenly seeming right with the Miami Heat, it’s up to the San Antonio Spurs to change them back Sunday (2 p.m. HST, ABC) in Game 5.
“It is a must-win. We don’t want to go back down there down a game with two games remaining at their house,” Spurs star Tim Duncan said Saturday.
“Obviously, we lose this game, we’re not giving up or anything, but we want to go back up with a chance to finish there. Huge pressure if we have to go back there and try to win two.”
The Heat evened the series with a 109-93 victory Thursday night, setting up what’s often the pivotal moment of the finals. Of the 27 times the series was tied at 2-2, the Game 5 winner went on to win 20 of them.
“I think that’s what everyone would like, 2-2 in the finals for Game 5,” LeBron James said. “We are excited about the opportunity. We have another opportunity to win on someone else’s floor.”
It’s the same situation Miami was in two years ago, losing Game 5 in Dallas. But the Heat also had dropped the previous game, and James was struggling through a poor series by his standards.
Everything looks good for the Heat as they arrive at this stage now. James was dominant in Game 4 with 33 points and 11 rebounds, and Wade scored 32 points, not appearing to be bothered at all by a painful right knee that had limited his effectiveness in the postseason.
With Bosh breaking out with 20 points and 13 rebounds, everything that was a problem for the Heat a few days ago no longer looks to be the case. Instead, the obstacles look to be piling up for the Spurs.
“It’s a part of the playoffs,” Wade said. “There’s always high moments. There’s always low moments. There’s moments when you have guys who are in a slump, et cetera. Guys who come out of it. Great story lines. It’s all of it.”
The teams returned to practice Saturday after taking a day off, and though Parker said his strained right hamstring was feeling better and he hoped to be close to 100 percent by the game, he later made that sound impossible.
“My hamstring can tear any time now,” he said. “So if it was the regular season, I would be resting like 10 days. But now it’s the NBA Finals. If it gets a tear, it’s life.”
Ginobili is averaging 7.5 points on 34.5 percent shooting in the series, making only three of his 16 3-point attempts. Parker said he’s still confident in his longtime teammate, and coach Gregg Popovich said he wasn’t worried about either player — about all he did say on a day when he was a man of even fewer words than usual.
During his brief responses to eight questions, he added that he wasn’t surprised by the Heat’s lineup change in Game 4, but wouldn’t say whether the Spurs would do anything different Sunday.
“I’d hate to be trite and say anything is possible. Your question demands my triteness,” he answered.
The last three games have all been blowouts, a somewhat surprising result that wasn’t so surprising to James. When their Big Three all play like they Thursday, the Heat can make even a good team like the Spurs look pretty bad.
“If we play our game, if we force turnovers, we rebound, execute offensively and don’t turn the ball over, we can win against anybody,” James said. “We’re a confident bunch. But we’re going against a great team that’s going to make adjustments as well. And that’s why it’s a 2-2 series right now.”
The Heat won only twice in San Antonio in their first 24 seasons, and now can win in back-to-back games, which would give the defending champions two chances to close out the Spurs back home. Game 6 is Tuesday night.
But the team that won 27 consecutive games during the regular season, the second-longest winning streak in NBA history, hasn’t been able to win two in a row since taking the last four games of the second round and the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Spurs haven’t been any better at maintaining momentum, following their two victories in this series with turnover-filled losses by a combined 35 points, and Duncan said their focus has to be sharper.
“That’s what it’s all about right now, is that focus for a longer period of time. Taking care of the ball, understanding what you want to do and less defensive mistakes, and for whatever reason it seems like the team that’s coming off a loss has done a better job of sustaining that for a longer period of time,” Duncan said.
“I hope that’s the case for us tomorrow, but we have to find a way to alleviate that, whether it’s a win or a loss.”
The Spurs have never lost a Game 5 in the NBA Finals, including victories in 2003 and ‘05 when the series were tied 2-2. Sunday’s game could be the last time Duncan, Parker and Ginobili play at home in the finals, and they want to go out a winner.
“This game is huge,” Ginobili said. “We don’t want to go to Miami knowing that we have to win both. Going there to win one of the two is a different situation. So Game 5, regardless of where you play, it’s huge for you at 2-2. We’ve seen it too many times. We really want to win this one.”
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