Have Wade, Heat figured out Spurs?
We're all tied up ... again. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James dominated in Game 4, knotting up the NBA Finals at two games apiece. Have the Miami Heat finally found a formula? Our panel discusses that and more.
1. Fact or Fiction: D-Wade had the best performance of the Finals.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: Fact. Unless we count Chris Bosh's theatrical performance on that flop in the second quarter. In all seriousness, Wade's Game 4 outing goes down as one of his best in his career if we consider that he did it while hurt. The stars in the Finals hadn't pulled their weight heading into Game 4, so it might not be saying much, but Wade's night was certainly the most impressive.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN Insider: Fact. Few great games have shocked me more. As so many have chronicled in such detail, Dwyane Wade hasn't really been himself since winter. Between the sluggish defense, ball-stopping and lack of rebounding, Wade looked like something of a saboteur until this brilliant Game 4.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Fact. He out LeBron-ed LeBron in terms of hushing all the external skepticism. Pretty much no one thought Wade was healthy enough to do that sort of damage. Gary Neal's Game 3 display was even more storybook, relative to expectations, but Wade's performance took this crazy series up another "What's next?" notch.
Adry Torres, ESPN Deportes: Fact. In order for Miami to avoid the threat of elimination in five games, they needed this type of performance from Wade in Game 4. He looked like his old self -- running the floor with LeBron, going after the loose ball, getting Miami second looks and just giving a better effort on defense.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Fact. All things considered -- physical struggles, shooting slump, trailing in the series -- what Wade delivered in Game 4 was highly impressive and a bit historic. He was the first player to have at least 30 points and six steals in a Finals game in 25 years.
2. Fact or Fiction: LeBron backed up his pre-Game 4 claims.
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Haberstroh: Fact. LeBron punished the Spurs' defense inside and out, fast and slow, in the air and on the ground. What stuck out the most in Game 4 was the transition opportunities that he manufactured off defensive rebounds. That's the LeBron that we remember from the regular season and the Heat needed earlier in the series. It wasn't Celtics Game 6 from last year's playoffs, but it was certainly redemptive.
Strauss: Fact. LeBron didn't come out firing from the outside early, as many suggested he would, but he did attack more in transition. Perhaps Gregg Popovich keeps citing turnovers because the transition game can be a vulnerability for San Antonio in this series. It often plays with two big men and its roster isn't comprised of high-fliers. If LeBron keeps attacking on the break, he can find buckets.
Stein: Fact. His demeanor was completely different, and so were the results. The conversation would be all LeBron, all the time between now and Sunday's Game 5 -- how he shut know-it-alls like me right up -- if not for Wade's eruption.
Torres: Fact. The Spurs contained LeBron and made him uncomfortable in Game 3. But in Game 4, LeBron wanted to drive, get contact on some plays, overpower his man and draw fouls (and there were a few more that weren't called). He definitely wanted to avoid any repeat performance from the 2011 loss to Dallas in the Finals.
Wallace: Fact. LeBron guaranteed he would have a much better showing than his relative lackluster efforts of the previous two games. He came up huge from the outset. He attacked the basket in the first quarter and never relented. He fought to exhaustion and left everything on the court.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Heat figured out the blueprint for stopping the Spurs.
Haberstroh: Fiction. If they did, they etched it in pencil. That's how unpredictable each game has been in this series. Just when you think a team has figured out the other team's attack, the script is flipped. If anything, the Spurs look like they're fighting the frailty of the human body, as Manu Ginobili looks old and Tony Parker looked gassed by the third quarter.
Strauss: Fiction. I mean, "2006 Dwyane Wade" is a great blueprint for beating anyone, but I'm not sure it's so replicable. Miami can easily replicate its small-ball approach, though. Lost in the shock of Wade's comeback game is that the Heat gave a mere 10 minutes to Udonis Haslem and zero minutes to Chris Andersen. They saved their season while going smaller.
Stein: Fiction. In these Finals? There are no blueprints. Nothing is sustainable. No two games are even similar, much less alike. If you can tell me that Miami's Big Three is going to generate 85 points in Game 5, 6 or 7 -- while staging a block party at the same time -- then yes, the Heat have found a blueprint. But who believes that?
Torres: Fiction. It goes for both teams. Just when it looks like one team is down and out, it just comes back and answers that hard punch.
Wallace: Fiction. If this series has taught us anything, it's that the loser of the most recent game will have an adjustment and an answer in the following game. These teams have traded major blows these last three games. No reason to expect the ebb and flow of the Finals to change now.
4. Fact or Fiction: Tony Parker's injury seemed to affect him.
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Haberstroh: Fact. But it didn't seem to set in until after halftime. Parker looked as spry as ever to start the game and pierced the Heat defense without issue. You have to wonder if the hammy stiffened up during the long halftime break. The two full days off before Game 5 should serve him well.
Strauss: Fiction. Parker looked incredible in the first half before struggling in the second. On the balance, when healthy, he's certainly had far worse performances. Parker didn't seem noticeably slower to my eyes.
Stein: Fact. He looked pretty close to Top Speed Tony in the first half, but he acknowledged that he never felt right and was grateful just to avoid making his condition worse. Will the two days off before Game 5 make all the difference? San Antonio's hopes of winning the series might rest on that.
Torres: Fact. I would think it didn't, but you knew it was in his mind. Parker knew he had to limit what he could do on the court in order to avoid reaggravating his injury. There were some times when it looked like his hammy wasn't an issue with the way he attacked the basket, landed on the floor and sprung back up to get back on defense. His health is a big question mark these next three games.
Wallace: Fact. Parker admitted the hamstring was tight and bothered him more as the game wore on. Parker came into Game 4 with a plan to test it out in the first quarter and see how he felt from there. He doesn't want to risk tearing it and being lost for the rest of the series, so this is a huge issue to manage.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Spurs are sunk if Ginobili doesn't find his game.
Haberstroh: Fact. That might not have been true if Parker was 100 percent, but that's not the case. The truth is that Ginobili hasn't really qualified to be a part of the Big Three moniker in this series. Perhaps a Big Seven is more like it.
Strauss: Fiction. This would be a fact until quite recently, but between Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs have accrued enough talent on the wings to compensate for Manu's decline. Even if Ginobili keeps playing poorly, San Antonio can persevere through the defense and 3-pointers provided by others.
Stein: Fact. Especially if Parker is limited in any way from here. The shot-making from Green and Neal has been breathtaking at times in these Finals, but the Spurs need more playmaking. They need at least one vintage Manu sighting.
Torres: Fact. There have been a few times this series where it seems as if Father Time has caught up with Ginobili. He's savvy enough to figure out that he needs to step it up a notch these next two, three games, but the Spurs' chance at getting another ring will falter if they don't get similar performances from Neal and Green.
Wallace: Fiction. Ginobili has been struggling throughout the playoffs, and the Spurs have gotten this far. But if Manu can't get his game going, the Spurs need a big performance from Gary Neal or Danny Green. Someone else will have to step up.
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