NBA Finals Game 4 Preview: Season on line as Heat look to avoid 3-1 hole

Pat Riley and Ray Allen. - USA TODAY Sports

No NBA Finals team has ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit. That's why the Heat should treat tonight's game as a must-win.

The Miami Heat faced a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 3 in the 2006 NBA Finals. Apparently, then-Heat coach Pat Riley simply wrote down "SEASON" on his whiteboard during a timeout, letting his team know that the team's season came down to this moment. Although Miami wasn't facing elimination then, no NBA team has recovered from a 3-0 deficit. The Heat needed a strong response then.

Riley's protege, Erik Spoelstra, should let his team know about this moment before and during Game 4. Although a handful of teams have mustered up the ability to come back from 3-1 deficits -- the last time it happened was in 2006 -- none of those occasions occurred in the NBA Finals. With Game 5 to be held in San Antonio, the Heat should treat Game 4 as a must-win.

LeBron James has already guaranteed that he'll play much better tonight. Spoelstra adjusted after Game 1, putting James more often in the role of a screener in a move that confounded San Antonio. He can adjust again, finding ways to get James the ball on the move in Game 4. On the defensive side of the court, the Spurs' 3-point shooting in Game 3 certainly exposed the risks of Miami's frenetic defensive style. However, it doesn't seem likely that Miami will essentially throw away its entire defensive scheme in the middle of a Finals series. The Heat players will simply have to make sharper rotations and play with the defensive intensity it showed in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Through three years of watching this Heat team play, I've always viewed Miami as a very good counterpunching team. It's certainly frustrating when Miami let a bad offensive team like the 2012 Celtics get easy, clean looks at the basket. But the Heat players typically respond when they need to, so perhaps that should give Heat fans some confidence heading into Game 4. But Miami will find itself in a very difficult position if it doesn't come out on top tonight.

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