Who will take control of NBA Finals?
All tied up at two games apiece, the Spurs and Heat go head-to-head one more time in San Antonio (8 p.m. ET, ABC). Will the home team shut down the AT&T Center on a high note? Or will Miami head back to South Beach with a critical one-game lead?
1. What's the key for the Heat in Game 5?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Live-ball turnovers are always the key for the Heat. But I'd add drawing fouls, too. Per NBA.com/stats, 17 percent of the Heat's points came from the line in the regular season. That number went up to 20 percent in the first three rounds of the playoffs. In the Finals, it's less than 12 percent. The Spurs are careful to avoid fouls. The Heat should be careful to draw them.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Consistency. Somehow the team that won 27 consecutive games in February and March has been unable to win back-to-back games since May 22. The Heat established the template in Game 4, so can they bring the same intensity in Game 5? It's something the Heat players have discussed all series. It's getting late to still be talking and not taking action.
Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: Go early, go hard. The Spurs' defense has proved difficult to penetrate once it gets set in the half court, but when the Heat run out -- off misses, makes, turnovers, free throws, timeouts and public service announcements -- they have options galore against a backpedaling Spurs defense, and that's when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are at their most lethal.
Sebastian Christensen, ESPN Deportes: They have to keep on pushing the ball after defensive rebounds. When that happens, the Spurs' defense doesn't get a chance to set, and Heat players can attack the basket with more ease. San Antonio's defense does a great job of clogging the paint. Miami has to be decisive on the attack, with no hesitation. The Heat are at their best when they control the pace of the game.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Hitting the reset button from Game 4. The Heat couldn't have played a more flawless game than what they delivered in Thursday's 109-93 demolition of the Spurs. It was a vintage Big Three performance from James, Wade and Chris Bosh on both ends of the court. The trio might not combine for 85 points again, but if they can engineer 19 turnovers and seven blocks, they won't be beaten.
2. What's the key for the Spurs in Game 5?
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Abbott: Tony Parker's hamstring, and dumb luck. With a full-speed Parker, the Spurs can create decent looks for somebody. It's almost mathematical. It's also mathematical that sometimes the shots go in and sometimes they don't. Luck is a way bigger part of this game than anyone wants to admit.
Adande: Dictating the terms. They played to Miami's lineups in Game 4 and never forced the Heat to adjust to theirs. They never established a favorable matchup they could exploit. The way things have gone this series, they need to play outside-in, hope Danny Green and Gary Neal can continue their hot shooting and use them to stretch the Miami defense.
Arnovitz: Rhythm and precision. The Heat's speed suffocated the Spurs' normally breezy offense. Miami took away passing lanes and gobbled up space. At a certain point, the Spurs got impatient, something that rarely happens. San Antonio has to get back to what they do best: Making Miami pay for its aggression.
Christensen: Manu Ginobili has to show up. His latest performance was the worst I have seen from him, considering he usually is clutch in important games. Tim Duncan said it best: "When the [Heat's] Big Three are on their game, we have to have a perfect night to win." That includes Ginobili playing a larger role. Maybe now that the Heat have gone small with Mike Miller in their starting lineup, Gregg Popovich can counter with Manu as a starter, to allow him to get in a better rhythm.
Wallace: Now it's time for a vintage Tim Duncan performance. If the Big Fundamental has one more classic outing in that 37-year-old body, it has to happen now. With Parker limited by the strained hamstring, Manu Ginobili struggling with no relief in sight and the Heat taking away open Spurs shooters in Game 4, expect Duncan to be the focal point of San Antonio's attack.
3. What's the biggest concern for the Heat heading into Game 5?
Abbott: Miami's true shooting percentage (which intelligently factors in 2s, 3s and free throws) in this series -- even with two blowout wins -- is lower than it was against the Pacers, according to NBA.com/stats. Buckets have just been tough to come by.
Adande: Wade's knee. After two days off, will it feel good enough for him to replicate his Game 4? One of the reasons Miami hasn't won back-to-back games lately is Wade hasn't scored 20 points in back-to-back games all playoffs. (He scored 20 points in 20 of the 25 games he played during the Heat's 27-game streak.)
Arnovitz: Falling into a slowish pace with deliberate possessions that result in 20-foot jump shots for James and Wade. Miami has so much at its disposal, as we saw in Game 3. Settling for low-percentage looks from guys who can do so much more is silly.
Christensen: A sense of urgency. They haven't won two straight games since closing out the Bulls and beating Indiana in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Winning 27 straight seems so long ago. Miami can't be complacent and has to play as if it is coming off a loss. Otherwise, the Spurs will have two chances to close in Miami.
Wallace: Relative prosperity. By now, we all know the pattern: Miami plays its best and most inspired ball when there's adversity and players feel as if their backs are against the wall. The Heat have alternated wins and losses in the playoffs for nearly a month now. Can they improve and maintain their edge coming off a victory the same way they are ultra-motivated to disprove the doubters after they suffer a loss? We'll find out in Game 5.
4. What's the biggest concern for the Spurs heading into Game 5?
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Abbott: The beast that is the Heat's defensive machine has awakened from its slumber. They need that thing to take another nap.
Adande: Parker's hamstring. For all of the fretting about Manu Ginobili lately, the Spurs' fate isn't tied to him anymore. The difference between his scoring in Spurs wins and Spurs losses this season was only 0.5 points. The difference between Parker's scoring in wins and losses was 5.4 points. They need four strong quarters from Parker, not the two he gave them in Game 4.
Arnovitz: Parker's hamstring. If he's not well, the Heat are afforded the luxury of playing a more standard pick-and-roll defense against the hampered point guard. That means fewer rotations, shorter close-outs, and a greater presence defensively inside. And for the Spurs, that means trouble.
Christensen: Parker's health. The Spurs point guard has acknowledged that if it were the regular season, he would be "resting for at least 10 days" and that his hamstring could tear "any time now." If he suffers any setback, San Antonio can kiss another Larry O'Brien Trophy goodbye.
Wallace: Parker's health. San Antonio can overcome Ginobili's lack of production as long as Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green steps up on offense. But with Parker dealing with a sore hamstring he says "could tear any moment now," the Spurs are flirting with disaster if he can't offer a strong performance. Parker was held scoreless in the second half of Game 4 after an impressive start. They need him to be spectacular, not sporadic.
5. Who wins Game 5?
Abbott: Spurs. Two days off come at the best time for Parker's hammy, it's the last game in the Alamo City, and these are the anti-momentum Finals. Gotta go with the Spurs.
Adande: Spurs. This series has felt like the middle weeks of an NFL season, when the teams that need to win most desperately always seem to. If the Spurs lose this one they aren't going to win two in Miami. They'll get one more great shooting performance at home and kick that "urgent" football to the Heat.
Arnovitz: Spurs. As tempting as it is to believe the Heat have everything figured out, there's been absolutely zero carryover effect for Miami after big wins for the better part of a month. I like Erik Spoelstra's going all-in on small-ball, but the Spurs still have plenty of fight left in them.
Christensen: Heat. I think we will finally get a close one. My initial prediction was Miami in six games, so I am going with the only possible result that allows it to hold up.
Wallace: Spurs. My gut instinct tells me the Heat. They appear to be the stronger, healthier, more confident team right now. But I'm going to pick the Spurs based on conventional wisdom and the respect I have for what this group has accomplished together. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili will make one last stand as they close the season at the AT&T Center. They'll force the Heat to win two for the title in Miami.
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