The Miami Heat went small ball in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and it paid dividends, as San Antonio could not match Miami's speed and athleticism. In Game 5 Sunday night, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich had to guard two shooters, Shane Battier alongside Mike Miller for the Heat, while needing to field some firepower of his own.
Perhaps he could hear Manu Ginobili singing his swan song, but Popovich started the 35-year-old for the first time all season, and Ginobili responded with a monster 24-point, 10-assist performance, easily his best outing of the playoffs. The Spurs jumped out to a double-digit lead and used a 19-1 run to take a 3-2 series lead with a 114-105 win.
The question now becomes, can Miami head coach Eric Spoelstra respond? Will he stay with a smaller lineup, or will he re-insert Chris Andersen for some much-needed shot blocking?
According to NBA.com, eight of Miami's 10 most-used lineups in the regular season included Shane Battier as power forward. Battier is a consistent 3-point shooter, but his lack of speed put its worst foot forward Sunday night. The same can be said of Miller, who has gone 0-2 from the floor and failed to score a single point, despite having played 46 minutes in the last two games.
When the Heat is at its very best, this team forces turnovers with its swarming defense (e.g., Game 7 against Indiana, or Game 4 against the Spurs) and makes teams choose: stop the penetration of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, or try to contain the perimeter. For the first time this postseason, Wade has had two consecutive hyperactive games in which he's gotten consistently into the lane. Prior to Game 4, he had failed to score 30-plus points since March 4. James, meanwhile, had a frigid Game 5, missing 14 of his 22 field goal attempts. Not to put the loss entirely on him, but he clearly did not come out of the gates with the same intensity and purpose that one expects from a four-time MVP.
The Heat has also suffered from terrible point guard play. Mario Chalmers, with the exception of a great Game 2, has been mired in an atrocious shooting slump and has shown shockingly lackadaisical defensive effort. He's shooting under 32 percent against the Spurs and lacks any sort of creativity when helping James and Wade off the ball. His backup, Norris Cole, although fearless, hasn't been much better. Spoelstra can help by putting James on the ball -- but then he runs the risk of James slipping into facilitator mode, which clearly has not worked against San Antonio. That said, with neither of its point guards on the floor during Game 5 (15 minutes combined), Miami managed to go plus-nine, so it's something to consider.
Both the Heat and the Spurs' inability to win back-to-back games supports the proposition that these two teams are evenly matched. Yet Miami seems to possess this odd and inexplicable tendency to disappear for stretches of the Finals. The Spurs have demonstrated their singular focus on effort, teamwork and winning above all else. Down 3-2 with the next two at home, Miami once again has its collective back against the wall.
Fair or not, fans are going to put this series on LeBron James. Forget about his legacy -- right now, his heart is what matters the most.Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report. Also, be sure and catch my NBC Sports Radio show, Kup and Schultz, which airs Sunday mornings from 9-12 ET, right here.