MIAMI — To appreciate this moment is to appreciate the coach who has helped deliver the Miami Heat to this moment.
Be it a January game against the Charlotte Bobcats, a February trip to the Washington Wizards or a March visit by the Detroit Pistons off two days rest, Erik Spoelstra has had a way of making it about “urgency” or “resolve” or his particular favorite, “staying in the moment.”
So at this moment, when urgent resolve easily could give way to getting away from the moment, Spoelstra on Wednesday stressed perspective heading into tonight’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat are one victory from the second championship in the franchise’s 24 seasons. Of course, to Spoelstra, they’re also three losses from being denied.
“You can’t ever take it for granted,” Spoelstra said after guiding his team through a light practice. “I remember when I was an assistant for Pat (Riley), he used to say this all the time, ‘You never know you’re going to win it until you actually do.’ “
It could happen in these Finals as soon as Thursday. If not, then it won’t happen in South Florida, with Game 6 scheduled for Sunday in Oklahoma City and Game 7 next Tuesday also at Chesapeake Energy Arena, both only if needed.
When the Heat won the 2006 championship under Riley’s leadership, they closed out that series in Dallas, yet to celebrate a title on their home court.
“It’s Game 5,” Spoelstra said. “We want to treat it as a Game 7.”
Spoelstra bristled at the suggestion that the Heat were on the verge of the ultimate goal established when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were signed as free agents in July 2010.
“Come on, this series has been decided by four or five plays every single game,” he said. “We have to generate, again, the physical and mental toughness, again, to go through it. It’s going to be a grind, and we have to be prepared for that.”
Wade said it is a different feeling than when he shared in the 2006 title, knowing they can close it out at home.
“I was actually trying to think about that, and it’s hard to bring back six years ago exactly what we were going through, what we did,” he said of being up 3-2 on the Mavericks in 2006. “It was a little different because we were on the road.”
It’s also different from last season’s Finals, when the Heat never got to the doorstep of a title, falling 4-2 to the Mavericks on the very court where they Thursday hope to create their own celebration.
“I haven’t even really looked at it as just one game away,” James said.
“I look at it as this is our next game. As crazy as it sounds, I haven’t got caught up in it. I won’t get caught up in it because I’m not going to let … you know, the human nature is to automatically think about after we win it, what are we going to do. I’m not there. I won’t get there until those zeros hit and I see that we won.”
The goal is to make the home finale the season finale.
“We know what’s at stake,” Bosh said, “but all in all, we know this is the last home game no matter what happens.”
For their part, the Thunder point to their 0-2 deficit in the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, a series Oklahoma City closed with four consecutive victories.
Even though no team has overcome a 3-1 deficit since the NBA Finals moved to a 2-3-2 basis in 1985, or even forced a Game 7 out of that situation, the Thunder believe they’re capable or showing more.
“I mean, definitely, our guys know it’s fresh in our mind,” coach Scott Brooks said of the ability to rally. “It was just last series that we were down 0 2. I mean, we’re definitely down. Our back is against the wall, but it’s not over.”
The goal for the Thunder is one more win and then a homecoming, with the Heat’s Game 2 victory in this series Oklahoma City’s lone home loss this postseason.
“We’re going to keep fighting to the end, and hopefully we can take this thing back to the crib,” forward Kevin Durant said.
To guard Russell Westbrook, after winning four in a row against the Spurs, three in a row, even at this level, doesn’t appear as daunting.
“We were down, and everybody said the series is over,” he said, “and then we came back and won the series.”