By all accounts, the Miami Heat got off to a great start in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night. Offensively, LeBron James found an early rhythm, scoring early and often. The Heat’s defense also looked better, forcing the San Antonio Spurs into several missed shots on the way to taking a 22-6 lead that yielded a 29-22 advantage after one quarter.
Then reality set in, and the Spurs forced Miami to fade into oblivion.
In the final analysis, the Spurs were simply the better team. Even as James put together a 31-point, 10-rebound night, San Antonio was superior. From the second quarter on, the Spurs flipped on the switch and the Heat were again swept aside without fanfare. So complete was the beating that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh watched their reign as champions end from the bench in the final minutes.
While there is certainly no shame in losing to a Spurs squad that is sure to be included amongst the greatest squads in NBA history, the manner of the defeats seems certain to haunt James, Wade and the rest of the Heat well into the future. These were not simply losses — the Heat were throttled and dismantled. And after having been so thoroughly beaten, the questions now begin in South Beach.
A team that looked like a dynasty in the making just one year ago has now dropped the most lopsided NBA Finals in a generation and is clearly in transition. Miami’s bench was virtually nonexistent against the Spurs, which allowed San Antonio to run roughshod over the Heat. Undoubtedly, GM Pat Riley will begin a comprehensive campaign to address the noticeable lack of depth that plagued coach Erik Spoelstra and the Heat throughout this series.
The challenges don’t stop there, however. In fact, the issues confronting Riley are long and varied heading into the offseason.
Getting James back into the fold will obviously be priority No. 1. Having already cemented his legacy as one of the best players of this generation, James can opt out of his contract and test free agency if he so chooses. With that said, it would be surprising if James decided to bail. After all, Riley has a proven record for producing champions, both as a coach and as a front office executive.
From there, things get dicey. Wade looks old and tired. Bosh continues to toil in relative obscurity compared to his superstar teammates. And with both players’ contracts also allowing for the possibility of free agency, the coming months could represent a complete makeover for a squad that was the NBA’s poster boy for the past four years.
Whatever moves Riley ultimately makes, it’s clear the gap between the Spurs and Heat is immense. San Antonio are the standard-bearers, and like everyone else, Miami is now left scrambling to catch up.
Is this the end of the Big 3? Only the coming months know for sure. What seems certain is that the Heat are going to look a bit different a year from now.