Before last night’s game the Big Three-era Heat had never lost a series when trailing 1-0, winning a Game 2 on five previous occasions. After last night you can make that six. After a slow start from LeBron James—just two points in the first quarter—the King ensured that the trend would continue.
A well-hydrated LeBron had a huge game on Sunday night, finishing with 35 points and 10 rebounds as the Heat beat the Spurs 98-96 to tie up the series in what was an absolutely engrossing contest. Chris Bosh had 18 points, including a huge three-pointer late in the fourth, while Dwyane Wade chipped in with 14. The Spurs were led by Tony Parker, who had 21 points. Manu Ginobili continued his strong postseason play, scoring 19 off the bench.
James was aggressive from the get-go—his lack of scoring in the first quarter wasn’t for the want of trying. In the second quarter James got things going in the post. The Spurs have made a conscious effort of bodying-up James in these Finals, rather than sagging off of him and daring him to shoot. But that approach led to LeBron driving and scoring in the paint last night, putting Kawhi Leonard in all sorts of foul trouble.
And after living in the paint in the first half, James took over in the third quarter with his jump shot. It wasn’t that the Spurs were giving him space to shoot; LeBron just caught fire and shot the ball before Diaw (taking over the defensive duties with Leonard forced to sit) could close, or the Spurs could shade over a double-team.
Despite LeBron’s brilliance, the Spurs were in contention in Game 2 until the very end. They cleaned up the turnovers from Game 1, and when they did cough up the ball it was down to Miami’s brilliantly frenetic defence rather than their own sloppiness.
In the first quarter the Spurs got off to a fast start thanks to Tim Duncan’s 11 points. The Big Fundamental finished the game with 18 points and 14 rebounds, tying Magic Johnson for the most double-doubles in NBA playoff history. Early on in Game 2 the Heat had trouble dealing with Duncan’s size, sticking as they did to their super-small, floor-spreading lineup. Duncan was able to get inside, scoring on put-backs and layups under the basket.
As the game progressed into the second quarter, the Heat gradually slowed down Duncan and the Spurs’ offensive machine. They held the Spurs to just 17 points in the second quarter and the game was tied 43-43 heading into the break.
After a sluggish first half, however, the third quarter saw an offensive explosion from both teams. The defence was more than acceptable; the offence was simply at another level. Between both teams, they scored a combined 69 points in the quarter. LeBron, as mentioned above, was sensational, but the Spurs kept pace with Miami.
After Ray Allen had given Miami a 71-66 lead, San Antonio hit back with a corner three from Patty Mills and a two-pointer from Ginobili, who cut to the basket and scored. Mills gave the Spurs the lead with another big three, Wade hit back with a runner in the lane, before Parker nailed his patented floater to give the Spurs a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
After conceding 35 points in the third quarter, the Heat desperately needed to tighten things up on defence—to get back to their first-half discipline. Against the Spurs (a team that runs pick-n-roll after pick-n-roll, constantly shifting into the next set if the previous one breaks down), that was easier said than done. But the Heat, constantly closing, constantly rotating, did a fantastic job of holding the Spurs to just 18 points in the fourth quarter.
A massive turning point in the fourth came when Mario Chalmers was called for a flagrant foul after appearing to elbow Tony Parker in the ribs. The Spurs, leading 87-85, had two foul shots and possession of the basketball. But Parker, looking rattled by the incident, missed both free throws, and on the subsequent possession Duncan missed two of his own. Instead of being up by six, the Spurs found themselves trailing. LeBron James went down the other end and swished through a massive three-pointer, putting the Heat up by one.
The game was still far from over, however.
After LeBron put the Heat up by three, Diaw, struggling to contain King James at the defensive end, tied the game up with a three-pointer of his own. And after Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen had given Miami back the lead, Parker recovered his composure to put San Antonio up 93-92, with a trifecta from the top of the arc.
Two possessions later, however, LeBron drew the Spurs’ defence into the paint, before finding a wide-open Chris Bosh in the corner, who made no mistake from beyond the arc. The Heat led 95-93, and would not trail again in the game. The Spurs turned the ball over at the other end, LeBron stretched the Heat’s lead to three points, and after Ginobili missed a mid-range jumper, Bosh crossed-up Duncan before feeding Wade underneath with a bounce pass. Ginobili’s three-pointer in the dying seconds was merely academic.
The series heads to Miami on Tuesday for Games 3 and 4, with the Heat getting the much sought-after split on the road. How will the Spurs respond?