For one reason or another, the Miami Heat seem to enjoy playing from behind.
Maybe they've bought into the hype surrounding their superstar roster. Maybe they simply can't grasp the fact that other NBA teams actually pose a threat to them until the scoreboard says so.
Come Tuesday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Heat are about to find out just how uplifting or damning that strategy is.
After dispatching three dangerous teams in a stacked Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs now find themselves one victory shy of their fifth NBA championship since 1999. They've handed out two of the four double-digit beatdowns in this title series and made more clutch plays on the only night when crunch time actually mattered (Game 1).
So what if San Antonio's been led by the unlikeliest of heroes in the form of Danny Green? In all of their recent championship runs, haven't the Spurs always found a way to maximize the contributions of an unheralded supporting cast?
In a championship bout destined for the history books before the opening tip back on June 6, these teams know that the lasting legacy of this series won't be about the journey.
Style points and moral victories have long since lost their luster. The only things that matter on a stage this grand are wins and losses.
Time: Tuesday, June 18, 9 p.m. ET
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
Series: Spurs lead 3-2
Key Storyline: Championship or Bust
NBA superpowers aren't formed for merchandise sales or packed houses, though both certainly help. Sacrifices—whether statistical, financial or personal—are made for one reason and one reason alone: to bring home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The Heat know this better than any of the other superteams that have cropped up across the basketball landscape since the summer of 2010. Their six-game defeat to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals was an utter disappointment. When Miami took the crown a year later, it was only seen as the precursor for even greater days ahead.
The 27-game winning streak and a 66-win regular season were both amazing accomplishments, but neither will be remembered in the Big Three fold on the biggest stage.
The sole item of importance for Miami is a win on Tuesday night. The Heat can't afford to look back at how they got in this position, nor can they look ahead to the second win that's needed to complete a successful title defense.
Must-win games are one of the worst cliches in the professional sports vernacular. Come Tuesday night, though, those words will be so much more than a hollow catchphrase; they'll be a way of life, at least for Miami.
San Antonio, meanwhile, shouldn't have to fight for media coverage any longer. The lack of rightful praise for the Spurs has been one of basketball's ongoing injustices.
But the phenomenon isn't entirely a bad thing. While their consistent dominance have been glossed over, so too have their rare moments of mortality.
A championship-or-bust mentality has never been forced on Gregg Popovich's team, not even during the peak years of Pop's Big Three. But even the constant media deflections that these players have taken from their legendary coach might not be enough to keep the magnitude of this moment from creeping inside San Antonio's locker room.
That might not have been the expectation entering the season, but expectations can change. Even those who still see Miami as the favorite would admit that a series loss would be a crushing collapse for the Spurs at this point.
And like the Heat, San Antonio has to approach Game 6 with a win-or-go-home mentality. The momentum swings have been huge in this series and will certainly be back in Miami's favor if LeBron and friends are able to pull off a victory on Tuesday.
Series Star So Far: Danny Green
I'd ask the person who tabbed Danny Green as the series star through the first five games how they ever predicted that, but they're probably still counting their massive winnings.
Forget about his past lives in the D-League and on the waiver wire—those are clearly behind him. But don't lose sight of the fact that this is still a complementary rotation player putting forth the finest perimeter performance in finals history.
Here's a look at all 25 of his record-breaking triples through the first five games of this series.
But if all he was doing was making shots (yes, even at a ridiculous 65.8 percent success rate), he might not have a stranglehold on the NBA Finals MVP award. When that pure shooting stroke is combined with a relentless defensive effort, though, it's obvious which player has made the biggest imprint on this series so far.
Surrounded by Hall of Fame talents at both ends of the floor, Green has emerged as the lone consistent contributor in this series.
Unlikely? Yes. But unsustainable? Not necessarily.
While he's not a 66-percent marksman, Green has solidified his standing as an elite-level sniper over the last two seasons. Dating back to the start of last season, he's converted 43.6 percent of his long-range looks (including both regular-season and postseason games).
Projected Starting Lineups
San Antonio: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan
Heat Will Win If...
...They can put their best foot forward for a full 48 minutes.
Consistent focus has been a criticism of this team throughout the season, and surely one that Heat fans hoped would be solved well before Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Clearly that hasn't been the case. Miami sways back and forth between dominant and disengaged, its attitude apparently predetermined by the previous game's outcome.
But if the Heat are relying on their ability to put forth commanding spurts to topple the battle-tested Spurs, then this series is already over. Sure, we've seen flashes of those insurmountable runs (33-5 in the third and fourth quarters of Game 2), but more often than not San Antonio has weathered the storm.
This has nothing to do with strategic adjustments (although two of the starting five spots could well be up for grabs), but it has everything to do with the mental makeup of this Miami team.
The numbers weren't awful in the Heat's 114-104 loss in Game 5 (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen combined for 87 points) until you take San Antonio's mind-boggling 60 percent shooting into account. The Spurs are a strong shooting team, but that statistic had more to do with what the Heat weren't doing.
Here's one more glaring stat for the Heat to ponder: Green is shooting 18-of-24 on uncontested threes in this series, via Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. How does a player who's clearly as dialed in as Green is right now manage nearly five uncontested looks per game?
Miami needs an efficient outing from the Big Three, needs Mike Miller to fire at will, has to have stronger point guard play and probably could use a little dose of Chris "Birdman" Andersen to help close off Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili's driving lanes.
And, for once, it needs all of those things to come together for all four quarters.
Spurs Will Win If...
...They can strike a balance between Popovich's new and old toys.
If a 3-2 deficit wasn't already bad enough for Miami, it becomes even more daunting when considering just how that third loss came about.
In Game 5, all of San Antonio's key pieces made substantial contributions. The Spurs' starters combined for 107 points, with no player cracking the 40-minute mark or shooting below 53.3 percent from the field.
The Spurs are so much more than the aging core that dominates the little media attention they receive, but that doesn't diminish the importance of Parker, Ginobili or Duncan in the least. When San Antonio is supporting its savvy stars with Green's bombs and Kawhi Leonard's athleticism, it's hard to envision this team losing one game, let alone two in a row.
If Parker and Ginobili continue wreaking havoc off the dribble, the trio of Green, Leonard and Gary Neal provide reliable kick-out options and Duncan doesn't relinquish his hold on the interior, the Spurs will be the second Texas team to end Miami's championship run on its home floor in three seasons.
But if Parker's hamstring flares up, Ginobili plays anything like he did in the first four games or Green finally wakes up from this dream, then the Spurs will be facing a winner-take-all Game 7 on Thursday night.
The Heat don't lose consecutive games. At least, they haven't in more than five months.
The Spurs don't waste chances to close out a series. They've won 14 of their last 16 potential series-clinching games since 2003, via ESPN Stats & Info.
Something has to give in Game 6. Maybe this is just a factor of growing up in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sports world of this generation, but I'll say that this year's finals trend is one that continues.
Neither team has won back-to-back games in this series. I don't think that's going to change on Tuesday night.
As for what that means for Game 7, though, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Final Score: Heat 99, Spurs 90