by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
- Miami Heat recognize flaws San Antonio Spurs exposed in Game 3 of NBA Finals
- Heat center Chris Bosh was harshest day after rout: "It's really embarrassing to be a part of that"
- Key for Heat always starts with defense, which allows them to run and open up floor on offense
SAN ANTONIO - Whether the words were delivered with animation (Chris Bosh), calm (Dwyane Wade and LeBron James) or intensity (Erik Spoelstra), the Miami Heat message is the same going into Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Regardless of Miami's poor and uncharacteristic offensive production in the San Antonio Spurs' 113-77 Game 3 victory on Tuesday, the Heat are more concerned with their apathetic defense.
"It's really embarrassing to be a part of that," Bosh said.
"If we bring that same effort and focus the next game, it will be the same outcome," Wade offered.
"We have to get stops," James said.
"You usually get what you deserve in this league in terms of teams putting forth more effort or more focus, more attention to detail," Spoelstra said.
The defense that was atrocious has to be better Thursday night, especially against the Spurs' shooters, who made a Finals-record 16 threes on 32 tries, including 13-for-19 from guards Danny Green and Gary Neal.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 21 points. That almost always ensures a Spur loss, but it didn't in a game when the Heat had trouble guarding anyone else.
"We have to look for opportunities to get easy shots," Bosh said. "We can't do that if we're constantly taking the ball out the net. So some shots you're going to miss, some you're going to make. But it starts with the defensive end, and really getting that kind of intense pressure and kind of really propelling yourself for the rest of the game."
This is how it works for the Heat. Their offense starts with their defense, and they are at their best when they are rebounding missed shots, pushing the basketball before the defense has a chance to set up and putting pressure on defenders.
That style creates so many opportunities, starting with James. It gives James more one-on-one coverage and helps prevent the defense from loading up on his side of the floor. The less team defense James has to deal with, the more he can drive to the basket or find open shooters.
Miami is most dangerous in transition, as it displayed in Game 2 during a 33-5 run. While the offense was beautiful, it wasn't possible without the defense, which forced six turners and held the Spurs to 2-for-10 shooting during that span.
The Heat need to run downhill toward their basket, and Game 3 was an uphill struggle. When the Spurs have time to set up their defense, they are keeping James out of the lane, putting multiple defenders in front of him and letting him shoot jump shots. With his shot not falling, it's a successful strategy for San Antonio.
What can the Heat do to turn it around? Beyond energy, effort and focus, it starts with defensive pressure almost as soon as San Antonio crosses halfcourt. The Spurs were way too comfortable in their offensive sets, allowing for the ball movement which led to so many open shots.
The Heat use the word "disrupt." If they are disrupting San Antonio's offense early in the shot clock, it prevents the Spurs from running through multiple options. When options are limited, the shot clock runs down and teams take shots they don't want.
Miami should have an opportunity to disrupt in Game 4. Spurs guard Tony Parker has a grade 1 right hamstring strain. If Parker plays, the Heat will try to make it difficult on him, and if he doesn't play, Miami will pressure the primary ballhandler.
"We've just got to do a better job defending the ball, defending pick-and-rolls, be more committed to the game plan," Wade said.
The Heat have that necessary ability to bounce back from losses. They haven't lost consecutive games since early January and have come back from every playoff loss a double-digit victory. That's the benefit of a veteran team with significant playoff experience.
Lastly, watch out for James. The MVP knows he needs to be better than the 7-for-21 shooting and suspect defense he displayed in Game 3.
"I take full responsibility for our team's performance (Tuesday) night," he said. "As a leader, I can't afford to perform like I did last night and expect us to win on the road. It's that simple. So I'm putting all the pressure on my chest, on my shoulders to come through for our team. That's the way it is."
He rarely premeditates his game plan, preferring to read the game and play accordingly. That might change in Game 4 with James looking for his shot early, attacking the rim and starting the fastbreak with his rebounding.
It's not all on James. But it starts with him and Miami's defense.
"I'll be better," he said. "I'll be much better (Thursday) night."