The mirror was not glass, the mirror was game film. Looking into it meant seeing an ugly reflection. It was no different than looking at an accident victim, someone run over by a truck. So in that sense Lebron James attended the autopsy. He dissected the death. To prepare for Game 4 he gritted his teeth and took his punishment as he sat in a room and relived the disaster and his part in it- someone who contributed to the death: 7 turnovers, holding the ball too long, a lack of urgency. Lebron, candid and thoughtful yesterday, told the gathered media, “We have to own our mistakes.” Of course that is always the first part of atonement: accept your failure. Losing a game in the NBA Finals is like falling off a cliff. When you land it hurts. The drama and optics and narrative don’t matter. Outside of literature, there are no such things as moral victories and beneficial losses. Losing makes everyone vulnerable because it is a reminder of the possibilities champions just don’t want to consider. If the Heat lose two more times their historic run will be over. But perhaps that is a plus for the Heat as the go into game 4. They play best when they are on edge, when they have something to prove. The beating the Spurs put on them on Tuesday night was exhausting . “Frustration. Anger. Pain.” Those were the words Eric Spoelstra used to describe the aftermath.
“We’re not comfortable. You’re always on edge.” It was unnecessary for Lebron to put into language his Miami Heat experience even though he was speaking of the NBA Finals. Pressure in the face of expectations create a fragile rope that can either choke you or keep you upright. NBA Finals games have their own rhythm and after the first two or three games it is clear: The Heat must have a spectacular performance from Lebron to remain close. Dwayne Wade has devolved from an impactful player to a contributing player. Chris Bosh is like a river, high or low, nothing in the middle. Rashard Lewis is being asked to reach back into the past, into the Rashard Lewis of Orlando when he signed a 100 million dollar max deal and was the centerpiece of an offense. Ray Allen plays with a fury and a focus but he has physical limitations only because he is nearing the end. Which all brings it back to Lebron and his 30+ points, 8+ assists, 8+ rebounds. He has no other option and yet Lebron has to embrace the irony. The reason he came to Miami- so he would not have to do alone- is in the end, what has doomed him in Miami: he has to do it alone.
Meanwhile the Spurs are on pace. They came to Miami to get a win and they got a win. Their self awareness is enviable. What happened in Game 3 will not happen in Game 4. It was both a fluke and a design. They Spurs move the ball and find great shots. But they moved the ball in Game 2 and missed shots and made mistakes and did what the Spurs rarely do: beat themselves. And yet, when they play Miami, they have collapsed three times. Twice last year and once this year. The Spurs have yet to beat Miami in a close game when they have to execute perfectly down the stretch because that means they have to stop Lebron James. It is far easier for the Heat to stop Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs have an advantage on the interior with Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and whoever else wants to drive the lane after the fourth or fifth pass on the perimeter. They have the rebound advantage. They have the bench advantage. They have the coaching advantage. They have the revenge advantage. The only advantage they don’t have is the Lebron James advantage. In this, his biggest game of the year, in game 4, Lebron James being Lebron James will overwhelm the Spurs beautiful team game. Like last year this will be a series with alternate winners until we get to game 6. Then the series really starts.
Miami wins tonight.