SAN ANTONIO — It’s a decision that could make or break the Miami Heat’s chances of winning a second straight NBA title.
With his team trailing 2-1 in the NBA Finals, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra started Mike Miller in place of Udonis Haslem in Thursday night’s Game 4. The lineup, which Spoelstra had used previously just twice this season, was rolled out in order to space the floor with another shooter to LeBron James.
It was a gutsy move by Spoelstra. If it were to work, he will be looked at as a genius. If not, he will be second-guessed by those wondering why the Heat went away from their regular lineup for most of a 66-16 regular season, which featured a 27-game winning streak, and this postseason.
Spoelstra declined to say who he was starting in a press briefing before Thursday’s game, waiting shortly before the game to turn in his lineup card. After Thursday morning’s shootaround, Spoeltra had been asked if Miller, a swingman who has shot 10 of 11 from 3-point range in the Finals, would be in line for a bigger role.
“He already has been a big part,’’ Spoelstra said. “He’s playing good minutes, so whether that’s more, the game will dictate.’’
The 6-foot-8 Miller shot 5 of 5 on 3-pointers for 15 points in 22 minutes in Tuesday’s 113-77 Game 3 loss. He was one of the few bright spots for the Heat.
“He’s giving us everything he’s got,’’ Spoelstra said. “Those efficient and impactful bursts are the key.’’
Miller started 17 games during the regular season, mostly filling in at shooting guard when Dwyane Wade was hurt, and the Heat went 13-4. He also started for Wade when he missed Game 4 of a first-round series against Milwaukee, and Miami won 88-77.
By replacing power forward Udonis Haslem, Miller joined center Chris Bosh, small forward James and guards Wade and Mario Chalmers. The thinking was the Heat would be able to space the floor and perhaps open up things up more for James, who has faced a San Antonio defense that is packing the paint so as not to not allow him easy baskets. James is averaging just 16.7 points on 38.9 percent shooting in the series.
Spoelstra used the lineup with Miller in place of Haslem in two late-season games. The Heat beat Boston 109-101 at home April 12, but Miller shot 0 of 6. Two days later, they beat Chicago 106-93, when Miller shot 4 of 6, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, for 11 points.
Miller certainly could help the Heat if he remains hot from 3-point range. However, it remains to be seen how many effective minutes Miami could get out of Miller, who didn’t play a great deal during the regular season and hasn’t logged more than 23 minutes in any playoff game.
Miller is a solid rebounder but he doesn’t have the bulk of the 6-8 Haslem. By Miller not starting, the Heat gave up something in the post to start the first and third quarters against San Antonio’s big pair of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter.
But Game 4 is a must win for the Heat. If they lose, they would fall behind 3-1, a deficit no team ever has overcome in the Finals.