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The Miami Heat tied the NBA Finals at 1-1 with a 103-84 win on Sunday evening, as pro basketball continues to remain as confusing as it does entertaining.
LeBron James had to go all-out, we presumed entering Game 2, because Dwyane Wade’s dodgy knees and Chris Bosh’s shaky confidence were getting in the way of James leading his Miami Heat to consecutive NBA titles. The general league consensus was that the back-to-back NBA MVP had to come through with the sort of startling all-around performance that brings an opponent to its knees, the sort of all-out all-around play that creates a distinction between the very good, and the legendary.
James brought it, for one quick and startling span four minutes into the fourth quarter. Beyond that, though, the Heat All-Star was relatively subdued throughout Miami’s Game 2 win. He finished with 17 points on 17 shots, eight rebounds and seven assists alongside three steals and three blocks. By and large, though, he was content to let both Wade and (especially) Bosh work their way back toward the good graces of those who assumed Miami would take this series. And yet Bosh (a relatively modest 12-point, 10-rebound evening) and Wade (10 points and six assists, missing eight of 13 shots) weren’t exactly up to their All-Star standards in the Game 2 win.
No, it was Mario Chalmers leading the way, as LeBron set sound screen after screen. It was Ray Allen and Mike Miller combining to hit six of eight three-pointers off the Miami bench. And it was the San Antonio Spurs, those sultans of substance, letting the game get away from them with 16 turnovers and a series of poorly executed plays. San Antonio’s below the rim attack relies on pinpoint execution to create scoring lanes and open shots, and yet the team was flummoxed by Miami’s screen and roll defense, while disappointing its coaching staff with a litany of poor passes that failed to hit potential shooters where they needed the ball the most.
San Antonio hung in there, though, despite showcasing the sort of rust we expected of them in Game 1 after the team’s 10-day layoff. Danny Green hit all five of his three-point attempts to start the game, making up for a frustrated Tim Duncan (who missed ten of 13 shots), a shirking Kawhi Leonard (who has been brilliant defensively and on the glass, 24 rebounds in the series, while missing two-thirds of his attempts from the field), and an unsure Tony Parker (whose jumper was far from pure, as Miami continued to dive under screens).
The Spurs still pitched toward a 62-61 lead in the third quarter, though, while Miami sorted things out. Once LeBron James picked up a dodgy second foul on what looked like a legal screen on Tony Parker, the Heat knew they were owed one from the referees and sent James to screen anything that attempted to move. The result was a 42-22 run, only kept in check by the clearing of the benches midway through the fourth, giving us the sort of blowout that seemed inevitable in Game 1 because of Miami’s superior rhythm matched with San Antonio’s encroaching rust.
For the Spurs, the alterations will be obvious as they head into Game 3. The team’s execution was terrible, the team appeared timid at all the wrong times, while Duncan and Parker were left to attempt to attack Miami’s suddenly-springy defense from all the wrong spots. Tim Duncan had little success on the low left block, while Parker’s attempts to shoot his way out of a 5-14 night from the field went pear-shaped. San Antonio has never been reliant on forcing turnovers to ease their attempts at victory, but Miami wasn’t pressured along its way toward a six-turnover game – with lead guard Chalmers finishing his ball-dominating, 35-minute evening with zero miscues.
An on-deadline sportswriter and a neophyte youth league coach can point the obvious out. Luckily for San Antonio, they feature neither in the team’s vaunted coaching staff.
Unluckily for San Antonio is the formidable coaching staff resting on the other side of the aisle, with momentum and a 48-hour layoff between Games 2 and 3 to ease in the transition to the road uniform. This is also a Miami staff that owns the ability to unleash LeBron James – the man behind perhaps the finest quick-hit sequence of playoff basketball we’ve seen since Michael Jordan’s era during Game 2 – for 45 minutes of pure, unabashed all-around brilliance in San Antonio on Tuesday.
This was always going to be a series. Now that both sides have each other’s attention, it can now groove its way toward becoming an all-time classic. The feeling-out process is over, and it’s time to tip toward Texas. Hurry up and get here, Game 3.