MIAMI – There were no anomalies to point toward. No cramps that sidelined the King at the end of a quarter. No broken air conditioners. No historically incredible shooting percentages that touched on the realm of the impossible. Not this time.
There was just the San Antonio Spurs delivering an utter and absolute 107-86 beatdown to a Miami Heat team that looked overmatched all night in Game 4 if the NBA Finals Thursday — and in doing so reminded us of a basketball truth marinated in so much irony: Even the best player on earth can’t win an NBA championship without some help.
That, too, was front and center as the Spurs employed a balanced attack that included Tim Duncan’s record-setting 158th playoff double-double (10 points and 11 rebounds), Kawhi Leonard’s second straight game of excellence (20 points and great defense), Tony Parker’s steady hand (showcased by19 points), Boris Diaw’s continued renaissance (eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists) . . . on and on it went, a slew of depth on one side and LeBron James with utterly no help on the other.
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This loss was not LeBron James’ fault. He scored 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting, he pulled in eight rebounds, and he tried to beat back a Spurs team that seemed hell-bent on humiliating the Heat as much as beating them. He just couldn’t do it all by himself.
Where was Dwyane Wade?
He started off 1 of 10, missed so many layups and bunnies it was hard to watch and finished the night 3 of 13 with only 10 points. James Jones needed only two minutes and 43 seconds to outscore him.
“Yeah, I just missed them,” Wade said.
Where was Chris Bosh?
He mustered only 12 points and four rebounds, outscoring Wade by two but rewriting the old joke about the Big 2½ to feel, yet again, like LeBron someone went through the fires of the Decision, the ridicule, the championships and the glory — and ended up back with a team featuring a Big One. And no one else.
Rashard Lewis became Rashard Lewis again: two points. Mario Chalmers was so beyond awful, again, finishing with four points on 2-of-6 shooting.
All season, this team relied too heavily on the idea that LeBron would be LeBron and all that rest would lead to an effective, efficient, dangerous Wade once the postseason rolled around. For that matter, an effective, efficient, dangerous team once the cupcakes in the East had been dispatched and whatever force emerged from the West came for the real series. That idea can be riddled out in many ways, but the most telling might be in examining the fall of Miami’s defense.
The last three seasons, the Heat were in the top 10 in defensive efficiency — fifth in 2011, fourth in 2012 and ninth last season. And good thing. Because no team outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency has won the title since the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, and only three of the last 36 champs did so.
This year’s Heat team? Eleventh in defensive efficiency, a stat and fact that was there to see, if you looked hard enough.
In these playoffs, Miami let the Nets and Pacers score more efficiently in those series than they did in the regular season. This is why Vegas saw what a lot of us did not: The Heat, as great as they have been, were vulnerable.
To age. To that natural letdown after having won two straight championships. To the vengeance and refocused greatness of the San Antonio Spurs and perhaps the greatest coach of all time (Pop) and the greatest player of his era (Duncan).
And to assuming LeBron would be there to catch them when they fell, to pick them up, and to put them — Wade, Bosh, that slowly deteriorating defense – on his broad shoulders and carry them right back to the stage with the trophy and the glory and the confetti.
Time to see just how broad those shoulders are. After Game 4, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra sounded baffled and weary, and he gave the Spurs the credit they deserved but did not, in the end, sound like a guy who knew just how to squeeze any more out of his players not wearing a No. 6 on their backs.
Bosh, too, and Wade, as well, were honest about how good the Spurs are playing, how much better . . . and yet where was the fight? It was as if that, too, was LeBron’s job now.
“They’re taking the fight to us right now,” Bosh said. “They’ve played the better games, and it’s disappointing to lose both games at home.”
No team has ever recovered from a 3-1 Finals deficit and gone on to win it all. Can the Miami Heat be the first?
“I don’t care about odds,” Bosh said. “Odds are for people that can’t do it.”
Maybe. But unless he or some of his teammates do in fact start “doing it” that pattern is going to hold. LeBron is amazing. Amazing. He’s a winner and a closer in a way he was not when this Big Three experiment started.
LeBron James came to Miami to get help and win a championship. It worked. He got it. He won two. He displayed his greatness and gilded it with two rings.
But now, almost four years later, he’s alone again, fighting for something he desperately wants, and looking at teammates who so far simply cannot deliver the support he needs.
Bill Reiter is a national columnist for FOXSports.com, a national radio host at Fox Sports Radio and regularly appears on FOX Sports 1. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.