MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James had a pained expression on his face during warmups and left the court twice in the early going, once to get his ankle re-taped and another time for a bathroom break.
He was clearly not feeling his best.
His teammates didn’t seem to be making him feel any better, either.
James’ final numbers from Game 4 of the NBA Finals looked stellar on paper: 28 points, 10-for-17 shooting, 4 for 8 from 3-point range, and eight rebounds. That alone just wasn’t anywhere near enough, and the Miami Heat are now in a colossal amount of trouble — the sort from which no team has ever successfully emerged before.
The Heat trail this title series 3-1 now, having been embarrassed at home once again by the San Antonio Spurs, who took command from the outset and beat Miami 107-86 on Thursday night. Game 5 is in San Antonio on Sunday night, when the reign of James and the Heat atop the NBA could end by being denied a third straight championship.
“The series is not over,” James said. “We’ve got guys with too much pride to even start thinking about that.”
No team in NBA Finals history has ever blown a 3-1 lead and James, an astute historian of the game, knows that stat all too well.
“We put ourselves in position where it is about making history,” James said.
The Spurs took control with balance, eight players scoring in the first quarter alone.
The Heat? They didn’t have anyone besides James reach double-figures in scoring until 7:37 remained, and by then there were streams of Miami fans filing out of the arena, quite possibly for the final time this season, maybe even for the final time in what’s been known as the “Big 3” era. Unless the Heat win on Sunday, the season will end and an offseason that will bring answers to many questions shall arrive.
“They’re going to play for their lives,” the Spurs’ Boris Diaw said.
James came to Miami four years ago seeking help to win titles, and that decision got him four finals trips and two rings so far.
But the help was nowhere to be found in Game 4.
–Dwyane Wade missed nine of his first 10 shots, finishing 3 for 13 from the field for 10 points. He has played in 151 playoff games. He has shot worse than 3 for 13 in only three of them.
–Chris Bosh was 5 for 11, good for 12 points.
–Mario Chalmers’ epic struggles continued with a four-point night, which gave him 14 for the four-game series. For comparison’s sake, Spurs backup point guard Patty Mills had 14 points in his first 14 minutes of action in Game 4.
“Right now, they’re playing better than us,” Wade said. “No question about it.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he will spend much of the next 48 hours mulling changes.
“I’ve got to find a way to do a better job for my group,” Spoelstra said.
The numbers were awful all around for Miami. The Heat shot 35 percent in the first half, their worst showing on that front in 101 games this season. The Spurs led by nine after the first quarter, by as many as 22 in the second quarter and wound up taking a 55-36 lead into the locker room at intermission. That marked the first time in NBA history that a road team led by as many as 19 points twice in the same finals.
The loss snapped a 13-game winning streak in games that immediately followed a Heat playoff loss, and marked just the second time in the last four seasons — the “Big 3” era — that Miami dropped two straight playoff contests at home.
The other instance of that was in 2011, the second of those losses being the one where Dallas won the NBA Finals.
That’s how that season ended.
It’s now anyone’s guess if this ushers in the start of another ending — to this era.
James, Bosh and Wade can all become free agents this summer. All three have said many times that they love the organization, but when this series ends, all will have decisions to make.
And those decisions could be one game away now. But Spoelstra was conceding absolutely nothing after Game 4, and Wade insisted that Miami would put forward a better effort in Game 5.
“Our group has been through everything you can possibly be through except for this circumstance,” Spoelstra said. “So why not? Why not test ourselves right now collectively, our championship resolve that we’ve proven, time and time again?”
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