LeBron puts stamp on Game 2 win over Spurs -- literally his handprint


MIAMI -- His hand came out of nowhere, and so did the rest of him. LeBron James came out of the ether, out of the border on your television screen and into the NBA Finals with a ferocity that we've come to expect.

As Tiago Splitter turned toward the rim and wound up for a dunk that might've quieted the crowd for a moment and slowed LeBron's head of steam, an outstretched hand met him at the apex and turned the ball away. It was an arm-wrestling match 11 feet in the air, and I don't have to tell you who won.

But just in case: LeBron won, and the Heat won Game 2 of the NBA Finals in one of the most unconventional, resourceful games of James' playoff career. The same hand that missed 10 of the first 12 shots he took reached out of nowhere and into history with a play that symbolized Miami's 103-84 victory better than any words can.

Not tonight. Not against me.

"You're either going to get dunked on or you're going to get a block," James said he told himself as he left his feet.

James was 2-for-12 and the Heat were up by two, 64-62, with 3:11 left in the third. An historically insurmountable 0-2 deficit at home was staring at them. James was staring back.

After a turnover out of a timeout, James took over. But he didn't take over the way so many people want him to take over. He didn't go into Michael mode or Kobe mode or Cleveland mode. He went into LeBron mode. And once and for all, we need to start appreciating LeBron mode for how breathtakingly great it is.

To close out the third, James had a steal to set up a 3-pointer by Ray Allen. He made a driving layup. He set up Mike Miller for another 3-pointer. By the time the quarter was over, what had been a one-point deficit with 3:50 left was suddenly a 10-point Miami lead.

There was no aerial bombardment, no hero ball, no delivering of messages to his critics. There was just LeBron and his basketball genius, his knack for being the most dominating force on the court in every way imaginable except the traditional way that so many people have been conditioned to want.

James found a way to put his stamp on this game, literally his handprint, 90 feet from his team's basket. He did it on a night when he didn't score much (17 points on 17 shots) and wouldn't try to when there were so many other ways for him to win this game.

Offensively, it was a struggle for me," James said. "I couldn't make a shot; missed layups. ... So I just wanted to make some plays and try to help our team."

James' freight train was already rolling over the Spurs when Splitter rolled to the basket and gathered a bounce pass from Tony Parker. Miami was up by 19 with 8 1/2 minutes left. Mentally, everyone was already in San Antonio. Everyone except LeBron.

"I was, I guess, the last line of defense," James said. "I was going to protect the rim the best way I could."

The result will be played on an endless loop until the start of Game 3, and on LeBron's highlight reel for history.

At his locker, Splitter smiled when I asked if he knew he'd been on the wrong end of one of those plays he'll be watching forever.

"Yeah," Splitter said, "at least I'll be on the news."

After the block, with the Heat already going the other way, James stood for a moment in the lane and savored it. Finally, he raced to the other end and set up Allen for a 3-pointer, then pounded his chest with both fists. After another turnover by Parker, James made himself available for a thunderous, hang-on-the-rim, touch-the-backboard dunk off an over-the-shoulder flip pass from Miller. The Heat were up by 24.

Yet somehow, there's a sense that this would've been more satisfying had James emerged from Game 1 and concluded that he'd have no help from anyone around him and would have to do everything himself. Players just as great have done it, and they've carved a niche for themselves in Finals lore.

James, as he has always done, chose another path. He chose trust. He chose the right plays, the smart plays, and understood his unique gift for being able to spread his energy and dominance around.

"Sharing the ball is contagious," James said, "and it allows everyone to feel involved in the offense. ... My shooters just need a little bit of room."

James had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 1. He had 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Game 2. Somewhere in there was the difference between a four-point loss and a 19-point win, and it begged for a conclusion.

"Whatever conclusion you want," James said. "It's a 1-1 series. That's the only conclusion I know."

James defended Parker more than he had in Game 1, and the Spurs coughed the ball up 17 times after committing only four turnovers on Thursday night. James' generosity awakened Mario Chalmers (19 points) as well as Allen and Miller, who combined to connect on 6 of 8 from 3-point range.

It should awaken something else: An appreciation of James' gifts and his command of those gifts and the versatility of his game.

James said he "doesn't really read into it" when people "want more of me." Nor should he. Nor should we. Don't ask LeBron for more. Don't expect something else. Just enjoy.

Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com

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