SAN ANTONIO -- Tony Parker is hurt, Manu Ginobli is reeling and the Heat suddenly look like the Heat again. Yet still, no one has any idea what to expect on Sunday, a feeling that was best summed up by Gregg Popovich when he said, "I'd hate to be trite and say anything is possible. Your question demands my triteness."
Yep, that's pretty much where we're all at at this point. Questions like, "why aren't you more consistent" and, "is this a must-win game" were the order of the day. For the record, Tim Duncan thinks it is a must-win and as for the consistency issue, you get the Pop Face and maybe a shrug.
It would be one thing if both teams were playing out of their minds, but that hasn't really been the case through the first four games. Miami's best is better than your best, but the Heat have only done that in second-half spurts. The Spurs had their blowout, and Game 1 feels like a long time ago.
As we head into Game 5, the only thing most people can agree on is that the Spurs do need to win in order to survive the return trip to Miami. But really, who can tell? Duncan, of all people, offered the most insightful response:
"You get familiar with what's going on and you get into kind of a rut," he said. "Obviously their defense was rotating kind of perfectly and knowing exactly what we were going to do. So you have to change things up. You have to change the pace of things, the way you do things, and in that way it kind of keeps them on their toes. More than them understanding exactly what they're going to do, I think that's what we have to do in this upcoming game."
That leads to an interesting question of adjustments and on that score, credit is due to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra for changing up his starting lineup in Game 4 and going with Mike Miller, which opened up the floor and allowed LeBron James and Dwyane Wade room to work.
"We just think it important for us right now with this series and this matchup," Spoelstra said. "That's why we did it. The score did not indicate the impact that we thought it had on how we want to play. We went down 10, but the most important thing is getting to our game in this matchup. We felt that was the best decision for it."
That was ultimately the Heat's biggest adjustment in Game 4: They finally played like themselves. Wade was great, James was fantastic and Chris Bosh played like the big man everyone wants him to be. The Spurs will counter somehow, perhaps with their own smaller lineup and maybe, just maybe, we'll get that epic game we've been talking about since the matchup began.
Still, there's a lingering feeling that Miami may have figured it out and if that's the case then none of this really matters. There's an inevitability with them that is essential to their personality.
"It's about what we do, the process of what we do," Spoelstra said. "Certainly as you get into a playoff series, both sides continue to make adjustments all the way to the end. But that's not the biggest factor. Not even close. The way we competed in Game 4 compared to Game 3, there's a reason why every single one of us were disgusted and embarrassed about our performance in Game 3. It was disgusting compared to Game 4. We don't see it as a coincidence."
As we head into Game 5 with so many unknowns, here are a few of the questions that are hanging over this series:
Tony Parker's Hamstring
The dude is hurt. He didn't look like it early in Game 4 when he was slicing Miami's halfcourt defense to ribbons, but he was ineffective in the second half and later revealed that he had to convince Popovich to let him play.
"My hamstring can tear any time now," Parker said. "So if it was the regular season, I would be resting like 10 days. But now it's the NBA Finals. If it gets a tear, it's life."
That doesn't inspire a lot of confidence and the Spurs desperately need Parker on the floor. He's talked all series about being patient and limiting turnovers, but in the end if his hamstring doesn't allow him to be the Parker they need then all the analysis and adjustments simply don't matter.
Can Dwyane Wade do it again?
If Wade is going to be able to go for 32 points and play the kind of all-around floor game he unveiled in Game 4, then we may as well start booking flights for home instead of Miami. Wade noted that he took shorter rests, which helped him stay loose during the game and Spoelstra made a key decision to not sit him when he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter.
"It wasn't magical," Wade said. "The biggest thing was talking with coach when I came out the game, not sitting too long, which I've normally done in the previous games, and it's kind of stiffened up, et cetera. So it was just talking to coach and the trainers saying when I come out, try not to have me out too long. I was able to put heat back on and keep me warm. But I was able to get back in there."
If fully engaged, Wade presents an obvious matchup problem for the Spurs, whose strategy has largely involved treating him like an afterthought. That may have to change in Game 5, which would in turn open up space for LeBron to go to work without seeing three and four defenders every time he goes to the basket.
Will the Spurs adjust to the small lineup?
Pop went with his usual starting five at the beginning and immediately subbed in Gary Neal after Wade was matched up with Tiago Splitter. Yet that wasn't the only adjustment. LeBron guarded Neal, which is a sign of respect for the hot-and-cold gunner.
"No, I didn't expect that," Neal said. "LeBron is one of the best basketball players in the world, in the NBA. He's a great defensive player. Nothing has really changed in my mentality. I still come out and try to look for my offense and try to be aggressive, and hopefully I'll be able to make more shots than I miss."
Neal's not going to change anything about his game and he'd be doing a disservice to his team if he did, but the real key is that all of Miami's maneuvering caught San Antonio off guard and that's not something any of us expected.
It's amazing how quickly all of this can turn and that's really the only thing we know we'll see tomorrow night. Someone will leave San Antonio with the upper hand. How that happens is the biggest mystery of all.