The back-and-forth, win-one, lose-one nature of the NBA Finals thus far would seem to indicate the Miami Heat pull off a Game 6 win.
Miami won eight of its first nine playoff games after closing the season with wins in 37 of 39 games. Since then, it has traded wins and losses, besting the Indiana Pacers in seven games and falling behind quickly, then rebounding, then falling behind quickly, then rebounding against the San Antonio Spurs. Now, for the second time this year, it sets out to play a game that could end its season, as the Spurs look to close out the NBA Finals and win their fifth championship in Tim Duncan's tenure with the franchise.
The Heat's bounce-back nature foretells a Miami win, but this series has also shown that things that are foretold generally don't pan out. Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili have each been written off as passe, no longer the brilliant wing scorers they once were. And they've each responded with unreal showings, guiding their squads to wins. LeBron James, the world's best player, has alternated between his usual self and tepidness. Enormous runs have come from nowhere and although the series record has stayed relatively even, four of five games thus far have ended as blowouts. Even Tim Duncan hasn't been his usual, ho-hum perfectionist self. And the only constant has been Danny Green. Danny Green!
Game 6 will either end with a Spurs championship or a date for a decisive Game 7. Which will it be? Here are three questions that could be early tells:
1. Can anybody stop the rain?
There are simply no words for what Danny Green is doing here.
Sure, he's a really, really good NBA shooter: 43.6 percent last year from behind the arc, 42.9 percent this year. Anything above 40 is very good, and he's been solidly over it two years in a row.
But he's at nuclear reactor levels. Even if the Heat defense is leaving him open -- and they are, as Mike Prada shows -- he's drilling open looks at practice rates. He's 53-for-103 in the playoffs, 51.5 percent, and an unfair 25-for-38 in the Finals, 65.8 percent.
It's easy to say that isn't sustainable. But it wasn't sustainable three games ago, and yet Green is sustaining as hard as he can right now. And he's playing great defense, and he's doing everything else the team asks of him.
If Green hits threes at just an average rate, we have ourselves a ballgame. But if he connects on another six or seven or eight or 14 looks in Game 6, the Heat -- and every other team ever -- will once again have trouble keeping up, and the Spurs might be celebrating Tuesday night.
2. Do we see the same lineups?
Normally, it's a bad sign when a team that's played well enough to make the NBA Finals randomly switches up their personnel rotation to better match up with an opponent, an indication of weakness or caving.
But each squad has made adjustments to its starting lineup, and each time, it has immediately paid off. In Game 4, the Heat pulled Udonis Haslem, who was occasionally useful against the Indiana Pacers but generally not fulfilling his role of reasonable rebounding and defense while also not providing any offensive spark. They replaced him with Mike Miller, officially adopting smallball, and although he didn't score, the Heat were better spaced as the Spurs respected him after he drilled eight straight threes across Games 2 and 3.
In Game 5, the Spurs decided to match the smallball. They axed Tiago Splitter from the starting five after LeBron wrecked his world with a block and he responded by shrivelling up into his shell for two straight games, and put in Manu Ginobili, a guy who has helped redefine the sixth man role in the NBA. He was brilliant in his first start of the year, a season-high 24 points while passing beautifully en route to 10 assists.
It stands to reason San Antonio will stick with its lineup after Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Ginobili meshed well from the opening whistle. But could Miami make a swap? After becoming an important part of the team's rotation for the conference finals, Chris Andersen hasn't played in two games, and could probably be useful defending the rim in Game 6. Ray Allen echoed Miller's bench shooting performance with a four-for-four outing in Game 5, and actually played more minutes than Miller off the bench. Or perhaps Erik Spoelstra might rethink his decision and try to outbig the Spurs with Haslem again inserted into the starting five.
3. Can the Heat guard everybody?
We've already talked about the Heat's struggles defending Danny Green. But the truth is, in Game 5, the Miami Heat did a lot of things well. They outrebounded San Antonio on the offensive glass. They shot better from beyond the arc. They committed fewer turnovers. They dished out more assists and hit a higher rate of free throws.
But the interior of their defense was sieve-like. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili totaled 67 points and combined to go 24-of-33 from inside the arc. And because they were doing things so prettily, Green was open. In previous games, this series had been an awesome-to-watch matchup of both sides playing outstanding defense and one just playing offense a little bit better. Sunday, it seemed more like one side continuing its outstanding offense against a defense that wasn't up to the task.
Some of this probably has to do with a squad that's featured a little bit more Miller and a little bit less Birdman, opting for offensive firepower rather than defensive presence. If they don't switch lineups, they'll need to flip their defensive switch and figure out a way to key in on the Spurs' stars while not forgetting about the dude going haywire from downtown.
Here's the info on Tuesday night's Game 6:
San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat, Game 6, NBA Finals
Spurs lead, 3-2
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
Odds: Heat -7