LeBron rejoins Finals with a flourish as Heat even series 1-1
There was no cramping in Game 2, only a determined LeBron James in all his breathtaking talent and fury pushing the Heat to a 98-96 victory against the Spurs that evened the Finals.
SAN ANTONIO -- When the media, less ripe than we were after Game 1, entered the locker room Sunday night, LeBron James sat at his locker with a towel on his head and both feet in an ice bucket. His face bore no expression, yet somehow, he was the picture of relief.
There would be no IVs on this night, no need for anyone to carry James anywhere on the court. He rejoined the NBA Finals with a flourish in Game 2; he would handle most of the heavy lifting on his own.
There was the 14-point barrage in the third quarter, when James bombarded the Spurs from all over the floor. At the end of a 35-point night, one that would see him walk off the court on his own power with a 98-96 victory that evened the best-of-7 series at 1, there was a pass to Chris Bosh in the corner for a 3-pointer that turned the game in Miami's favor.
No hand wringing over whether James had made the right basketball play on that one. Funny what happens when the ball goes in.
"When the ball is in my hands," James said, "I'm going to make the right play."
Unlike Game 1, when James succumbed to 90-degree heat caused by a broken air-conditioning system, he was on the floor with the ball in his hands at the end this time -- and at the other end, closing out to San Antonio's shooters. It showed. The Spurs would not replicate their scorching 14-for-16 performance in the fourth quarter on Thursday night, missing 11 of 17 in the final quarter this time.
"Coming down in the fourth quarter in that four- or five-minute window, last game it was a barrage of shots that fell for them," Ray Allen said. "We did a bad job of execution. Tonight, we had better attention to detail."
What else did they have? An ambulatory LeBron James, with the full force of his talent and fury.
"Look," Allen said, "I don't count anything out when it comes to LeBron. He's capable of doing anything out there on the floor. We've just got to fill in the gaps."
It was James who filled in the gaps in Game 2, shooting 14-for-22 and pulling down 10 rebounds. His fourth and final assist was the ultimate sign of trust in Bosh, who stood open in the corner -- the same spot from which he'd missed a 3-pointer on the previous possession with the Spurs leading 93-92.
"He's the most unselfish player I've ever played with," said Bosh, who knocked down his only 3-pointer of the night to give Miami a 95-93 lead with 1:18 left. "Even if he's hot, he'll still hit you if you're wide open."
The Spurs had done everything right -- cutting their turnovers from 23 to 11, forcing 16 Miami turnovers for 14 points and outshooting the Heat from 3-point range (12 for 26 compared to Miami's 8 for 19). Well, almost everything. The reliable Tony Parker and Tim Duncan missed four consecutive free throws after a flagrant foul was assessed to Mario Chalmers for elbowing Parker in the ribs on his way to the basket with 6:43 left and San Antonio leading 87-85.
"Just wanted to capitalize off their mistakes and put some pressure on their defense," James said.
He did that and more. He relieved pressure the size of a boulder on the Heat and on the NBA after the fiasco that marred Game 1 and rendered James helpless over the final four minutes -- a critical stretch that would have loomed large if the Heat had gone back to Miami down 0-2. Before the game, commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that the situation "wasn't handled perfectly" and said, "I'm glad this isn't single elimination; it's best of seven. So it's too early to say how this Finals will be remembered."
If the Spurs hadn't missed those free throws ... if Ginobili hadn't missed a 19-footer with 29.9 seconds left ... if the Spurs had fouled instead of getting beaten by Dwyane Wade for a layup with 9.4 seconds left ... this first leg of the Finals might be remembered very differently.
"We knew going down 2-0 was a tall order for us," Wade said. "Was it the end of the series? No. But it would've been a tall order for us."
After what James endured over the past 72 hours -- ridicule in social media wasteland, armchair therapists (like me) offering advice on how to prevent cramping, and all the usual scrutiny he's come to accept -- he made some changes. With a split screen on the ABC broadcast, it was noted that James ditched his full-length compression tights after speculation that they may have contributed to the severe cramping and heat retention he experienced in Game 1. James made the wardrobe change after watching the game following another cramping incident in the 2012 Finals against Oklahoma City and noticed that he wasn't wearing long tights in that one.
"I've been going with the longer tights throughout the playoffs and decided to go with the shorter ones today," James said.
"When you lose," Allen said, "you change stuff up."
James also revealed that he did something else different to prepare for a game that he knew he had to find a way to get through: He took an outdoor yoga class at 8 a.m.
"Me and three other people and also a little kid, but he didn't want no part of it," he said. "So that's probably the only thing I did different today."
That, and finish the game, and put his stamp back on these Finals. The Heat have now won 13 consecutive postseason games following a loss, and if you don't know who's responsible for that, you haven't been paying attention.
"To be able to put an NBA uniform on every single night with my name on the back, knowing where I come from, let's me know that I've done something special," he said. "I just try to give back to the game as much as I can while I'm here."
And from the looks of things on Sunday night, he's here for the duration in these Finals.
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