MIAMI – On perhaps his final march out of an NBA title run in the American Airlines Arena, LeBron James paced arm and arm with Dwyane Wade, matched attire and jaded eyes to a co-star regressing when the moment has called for his stardom. Inflicted a lesson in championship cohesion and historic levels of offensive potency, the cart ride out of the building couldn’t come swift enough, and so James greeted his two sons outside the locker room and he and Wade simply wore practice gear into a clear address on the state of mind, on the brink of Finals defeat.
James and Wade walked side by side as the clock eclipsed midnight, honest and stricken over consecutive annihilations conducted on the home floor of the Finals, and behind them an onlooker hollered the strangest remarks. “Keep it up, guys,” the man said. “Keep it up!” James had committed to his path forward, but Wade creased his face to the side, as if to grasp vision of the scene out of the corner of his eye. Nothing to keep up here, nothing to counter after a 107-86 loss on Thursday, and Wade continued his walk and caught up to James.
The San Antonio Spurs captured an insurmountable 3-1 lead in this Finals series, orchestrating the essence of the sport with selfless passing and constant movement – with, as Heat players privately said in the locker room, a flood of constant running and pitching of the ball. Run and pitch pass. Pitch and run.
Everyone played and everyone scored for the Spurs. Everyone furnished enthusiasm and everyone contributed to the cause.
As San Antonio amplifies its team morale, its team play, a back-to-back champion and the Earth’s best basketball player have been knocked into submission. James was Miami’s greatest advantage of all. The Spurs are cliché destroyers: The most talented, most reveled player in the NBA won’t tilt a championship, but rather succumb to waves upon waves of shot making and disruption.
“We need to go home, do soul searching and guys have to find out what they have to do for the team,” Chris Bosh said. “I’ll think about how we got our ass kicked. We’re not even giving ourselves a chance.”
All of these aging future Hall of Famers, all of these discarded parts, and purer basketball is found nowhere else. Shot clock running down, and only these Spurs become absolutely dependable, swinging passes side to side, plotting into the paint and exhausting every angle, every millisecond, for the optimal shot. James scores 28 points – 19 in a quarter – and strokes four three-pointers, and it’s all rendered useless. The rest of the starters missed 23 of 34 shots, and the bench was rudderless.
The Spurs are a machine, easing the game at the peak of their powers, teaching Miami a lesson in championship coherence. Suddenly, Boris Diaw has turned into a point guard, a 6-foot-8 specimen schooling Wade on defensive turns, on the low post and blowing past him. Suddenly, the Finals MVP award is up for grabs – a surging Kawhi Leonard and the steady Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in competition – a testament to sheer well roundedness and a brilliant roster design.
“I don’t think any of us were expecting this type of performance,” Erik Spoelstra said.
It was Miami receiving the clutch shooting and critical rebounding a year ago in this series, but Spoelstra’s reliant on dry production now. He’s desperate to gain a defensive control, for turnovers to create havoc in the open court. Through four games, Miami still hasn’t scored 100 points, unable to run the way that the Western Conference trained the Spurs.
The end is near now, no Finalist ever recovering from this 3-1 pit. No one in the Miami organization places any scenario past Pat Riley come July. James needs more reliable shooters around him, needs fresher players to crash the rebounding glass and provide flexibility on defense. He needs his co-stars reliable in the most important times. Just within the past week, the Heat held a free agent mini-camp, including bringing last June’s draft pick, James Ennis, to Miami, and Ennis and Justin Hamilton will headline the franchise’s summer league team.
In the corridor of their home arena, James and Wade walked shoulder to shoulder, no sharp suits or mountain hats or designed outfits crafted by stylists. They had wanted a quick resolution to the press conference, had no time to waste. Given the NBA’s dress code, Wade and James decided upon the Miami Heat’s official gear, a team official told RealGM, and then hopped onto the cart ride to the team bus, onto a plane to San Antonio.
Here was a one-man show in the ultimate must-win game, and a flurry of no-shows. The beauty of team basketball is knocking the generation’s best talent to the brink of title failure, the fate of his youthful 2007 Finals all over again. One more game to stand on now, one more opportunity for a championship cast to support LeBron James.
“If not, then it’ll be over,” Wade said.