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The Miami Heat shook off one of their worst losses in team history to tie the NBA Finals on Thursday, and on Sunday they will try to take control of the series in a pivotal Game 5 against the San Antonio Spurs.
"I think Game 5 should be the best game of the series," Dwyane Wade said Friday. "Both teams should come out knowing each other, knowing what each other want to do, and it should be a very good game."
If Miami is to win Game 5, they will have to do something they have not done since the first game of the conference finals three weeks ago: win two games in a row. After falling in a nail-biter in Game 1 at home, the Heat blew out the Spurs in Game 2.
The momentum did not last long, as Miami suffered the third worst defeat in NBA Finals history in Game 3 at San Antonio. The Heat followed that up with another blowout win on Thursday, riding an 85-point output from Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh.
What will it take for the Heat to win again in San Antonio Sunday? On defense, Miami has successfully limited San Antonio's Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili through most of the series. They combined for 54 points in Game 1, but no more than 40 points in any other game of the series.
The Heat were burned by the three-point shooting of Danny Green and Gary Neal in Game 3 (they combined to shoot 13 of 19 from downtown), but in Game 4 the two only got off 9 attempts from three-point range.
When Miami has forced turnovers (19 in Game 4, 16 in Game 2), they have succeeded. Active engagement on defense and fast enough rotations to limit Green and Neal's opportunities will be key.
On offense, the Heat will likely continue with the small lineup that worked so well for them in Game 4. Erik Spoelstra went with only one big man on the floor at a time, using the extra spot on a wing shooter like Mike Miller or Shane Battier. It forced San Antonio to leave more space in the paint open.
As a result, Miami dominated in points in the paint (50-38), and Wade was free attack the rim to great effect (16 of his 32 points came in the paint). James and Bosh combined for 16 points within 3 feet of the rim as well.
When Miami attacks the rim like they did on Thursday, they tend to win, and win big. It is when they get passive on offense, passing the ball around the three-point line until someone attempts a long contested jump shot, that the Big Three fizzle.
With Game 6 scheduled for Tuesday in Miami, the Heat can put San Antonio on the brink of elimination with a win, but the veteran Spurs will not go down without a fight.
"It's going to be hard, the hardest thing we're going to do as a group is to try to repeat," Wade said. "And this team over here is not going to quit, no matter what. So we have to prepare for their best effort."
Game 5 tips off at 8pm ET in San Antonio, with coverage on ABC.
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