Before the San Antonio Spurs dominantly closed out the fourth quarter of Game 1 as LeBron James cramped on the sidelines for the Miami Heat, a lot of talk surrounding this series was about the way the Spurs gave this series away a year ago. The Heat didn't want it to sound like they didn't earn their second successive title by withstanding fate in Game 6 and then taking care of business in Game 7. The Spurs didn't want it to sound like they weren't right there at the end of the series and close to winning their fifth franchise title.
It was the mistakes of the Spurs late in both Games 6 and 7 that kept the door open for the Heat. Missed free throws late in Game 6's regulation and failure to secure the biggest defensive rebound of the season loomed large. A Tim Duncan putback in Game 7 allowed the Heat to close the door with a legacy-building dagger by LeBron James to essentially end the season and book the parade. It wasn't just that the Heat were coming through on these big possessions; they were capitalizing on uncharacteristic mistakes by the Spurs to do it.
In the fourth quarter of Game 2 in a phenomenal back-and-forth affair between these two teams Sunday night, the Spurs left enough big plays on the table to allow the Heat to pounce on the opportunity to even the series at 1. That's exactly what happened in Miami's 98-96 victory. The Spurs offense bogged down as the Heat made plays, and the fallout was frustration and the Spurs not doing what they do best -- execute.
"It's a 48-minute game and we didn't move it enough," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's how we have to score. We can't put it in somebody's hands and have them create everything for us. It's got to be a group effort and we didn't do that. That puts a lot of pressure on everything else. We have to be perfect on defense, it means we can't miss four free throws in a row, and those sorts of things.
"You move it or you die."
The biggest mistake of the fourth quarter for the Spurs may have come right in the middle of the period. With San Antonio up 87-85, Mario Chalmers drove the basketball down the left side of the lane and as he tried to create space against Tony Parker, he threw an elbow into Parker's stomach, drawing a flagrant-1 foul. The Spurs had a chance to push the lead to at least four points, and possibly six or seven.
Instead, Parker missed both free throws. As the Spurs retained possession because of the flagrant, Duncan was fouled and missed both of his free throws. LeBron came down and knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Heat up one, when they should have been trying to chip into a much bigger lead. The Spurs only made three shots the rest of the game, all 3-pointers and one of them coming at the buzzer when the outcome was already decided.
The fourth quarter for the Spurs was night and day from their performance in Game 1. In the last game, they poured in 36 points by making 14 shots (12 assisted) and scoring seven times in the restricted area. In Game 2, the Spurs made six shots in the fourth quarter (five assisted) and were only 2 for 10 inside the 3-point arc in the period. The Spurs didn't execute and they didn't take a single shot in the paint in the final 3:30 of the game.
San Antonio made just 35.3 percent of their shots in the fourth and were 2 for 6 from the free-throw line with those four missed freebies looming large. And even when the Heat made mistakes in the final quarter, the Spurs couldn't capitalize. They didn't score any points off the three turnovers by Miami in the fourth.
It's not like the Spurs had to be reminded of just how dangerous this Heat team can be, but it was a reminder that no matter how the game is going for the Spurs, they have to finish strong in all of these games. If they continue to leave key opportunities on the table, they'll likely let their fifth franchise title slip through their fingers once again.