MIAMI -- Only eight teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a series. That is the current situation for the Nets, who are a desperate -- and therefore dangerous -- team as they prepare for Game 5 Wednesday against the Heat.
That means a veteran-laden Brooklyn roster, anchored by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, faces odds that run as high as the nearly $200 million in salary and projected luxury-tax penalties it cost to assemble the team this season.
The Nets are one loss from the most expensive failure in league history.
And that makes them one of two things from the Heat’s vantage point: Done, or completely dangerous.
“That’s kind of a tough thing,” Chris Bosh said after the Heat’s morning shootaround Wednesday. “You can’t match their desperation because, for one, they are desperate, their backs are against the wall and they are facing elimination. We’re not facing elimination. But what we do have is our home-court energy, and we can feed off that. We know the desperation we need to come with to close out the series.”
The Heat have established a dominant track record when faced with these opportunities. Since LeBron James and Bosh came to Miami to join Dwyane Wade in 2010, the Heat are 10-3 when they had a chance to close out a series. That stretch includes an 8-0 mark at home under those circumstances, and a 6-0 record overall when they have led a series 3-1.
Pierce is well aware of what’s at stake. When he and Garnett arrived from Boston in a trade last summer, Pierce anticipated Brooklyn’s road to a potential trip to the NBA Finals would travel through Miami. That road could end here unless the Nets find a way to contain James, limit the Heat’s role players, execute on the road and swing the series back to Brooklyn for Game 6 Friday.
“Our season is on the line right now, so every game right now for us is desperation mode,” Pierce said. “No tomorrow, we’ve got to understand that, got to understand the urgency.”
Pierce said he believes the Nets still have the talent to overcome the Heat. But he also mentioned that the focus of Wednesday’s morning shootaround was more about mental preparation and embracing the task at hand, despite how overwhelming it might seem.
After winning all four games against the Heat in the regular season, the Nets haven’t been able to get the consistent offensive balance and late-game defensive execution in this series that allowed them to prevail in three one-point victories and a double-overtime win during the regular season. James is coming off a 49-point effort in Game 4 that matched his playoff career high.
“Think about your situation, the mental toughness you’re going to need,” Pierce said. “Think about the resolve, and we have it. I don’t know if I ever came back from 3-1. Everybody has written you off at this point. As a team, you stay together and grind it out. We can’t have any mental fatigue or weakness.”
The Nets' combination of veteran savvy, streaky 3-point shooting and ability to control the tempo should pose enough of a concern to prevent the Heat from growing complacent.
“Your [past] experiences don’t guarantee you anything right now, but what it teaches you is how difficult it is in the playoffs to win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When you have an opportunity to close someone out, you want to take advantage of it because so many things can happen when you leave it to chance. These are games you have to go after. If you have an opportunity to put somebody away, you have to attack that opportunity.”
Bosh said the outcome of Tuesday’s game between the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards served as a reminder of what could happen if a team doesn’t play with focus and passion when afforded a chance to end a series at the first opportunity. The Pacers were in the Heat’s position Wednesday when they returned home with a 3-1 series lead against the Wizards and were blown out in Game 5.
“It’s always important to show a good effort on your home court,” Bosh said. “We do want to close this game out. But we’re going to have to play attention to details. We’re going to have to get off to a good start. We’re going to have to play better than we did in Game 4. Hopefully, if we can do all those little things, we’ll come out with a win.”
The Nets aren’t the only team with something at stake Wednesday. A victory for the Heat would give them at least three days of rest before they would play either Washington or Indiana in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. The ultimate benefit is that it would keep the Heat on track to reach the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season as they attempt to win a third consecutive title.
“We’re still a hungry team, too,” Heat point guard Mario Chalmers said. “The main thing for us is to not feel like we have to rush anything. We have to take our time, because we know [Brooklyn] is going to leave everything out on the court and try to steal one. So it’s vital to keep doing what we came to do.”