MIAMI -- There is a level the Miami Heat can reach that no other team in the league can approach. It is overwhelming and awesome to behold, like a boulder screaming downhill obliterating everything in its path. It starts on the defensive end with arms and hands in every passing lane and ends, predictably, in transition dunks and wide-open threes.
"You don't want it to stop," Chris Bosh said. "You don't want anyone to call timeout. You just want it to keep going."
It never happened in Game 1, thanks to an exceptionally smart and disciplined approach from the Spurs. But when it came in Game 2 it sent the series back to San Antonio with a split and set the stage for what feels like a long and winding journey.
San Antonio was leading by a point late in the third quarter when it started. Less than four minutes later, the Heat were up by 10 going into the fourth. There were turnovers, missed shots, long rebounds and run-outs. There was an absurd twisting layup by LeBron James that was notable in that it was his first impressive basket of the night. The MVP was suffering through an uncharacteristically unimpactful game. Then there were threes raining down from everywhere. It was only just beginning.
It carried over into the fourth quarter when another San Antonio turnover set the stage for the carnage that was about to follow. Suddenly LeBron was everywhere, knocking down jumpers and setting up his shooters with line-drive passes across the court that only a handful of players are even allowed to make, let alone have the ability to even attempt.
In a little less than eight minutes of basketball, but in what must have felt like an eternity for San Antonio, the Heat scored 24 of the 27 points and turned a weirdly tight game into a blowout. Then there was THE BLOCK. Holy hell, that block.
Tiago Splitter, all 7 feet of him, was sailing in for an easy dunk when James decided to contest.
"Basically, I told myself, you'll end up on SportsCenter, where you're going to get dunked on or you're going to get a block," James said. "Luckily I was on the good side of the Top 10 and (not) the Not So Top 10."
It must be remembered that in the context of a basketball game, Roy Hibbert's rejection of Carmelo Anthony in Game 6 of the conference semifinals was more meaningful. The fate of a series hung in the balance on that play. This was the exclamation point on a 19-point victory. That said, LeBron's block was the ultimate expression of his power and ability. Erik Spoelstra said it took, "great courage," which was a little much. But it was utterly defiant.
Ray Allen buried a three at the other end, off a feed from James naturally, and a few seconds later James slammed home the finishing touches on Miami's 103-84 victory. LeBron was a perfect 4-for-4 in seven minutes of the fourth quarter, scoring nine of his 17 points to go with three rebounds, two assists and zero turnovers. This was far from his finest performance but it was vindication of a sort, as if he truly needs any by this point.
What made this win all the more satisfying for Miami was the amount of contributors to the cause. Five different players scored in double figures and two more had nine points. Mario Chalmers scored a game-high 19 and Chris Bosh had a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. Allen and Mike Miller made six of their eight threes. LeBron's supporting cast carried the day for much of the night, which was proof that yes, they can survive if James has an off night.
"That's when they're at their best," Gregg Popovich said. "That's when every team is at their best."
The Spurs had something similar going until it all came crashing down. Danny Green had 17 points on six shots and was perfect from the field. Kawhi Leonard had 14 rebounds and played James as tough as anyone has for 33 minutes. The Spurs were Spursian, and then they discovered that they were no match for the Miami swarm when it is properly engaged.
Everything changed in the two days between Games 1 and 2. Not just the complexion of the series, but all the carefully detailed plot points from the opener. The Spurs had as many turnovers in the first quarter as they had in all of Game 1, and Tony Parker went from zero to five in the face of a subtly aggressive Heat defensive scheme that kept a body in front of him every time he tried to turn the corner. The pocket passes off the pick-and-roll that triggered San Antonio's halfcourt offense were swallowed up and rendered ineffective, forcing the Spurs into third and fourth options.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker shot 10-for-33 and in classic Popovichese, he explained, "Missing shots and not shooting well and turning it over is a bad combination."
There is no reason to believe that any of this will carry over into Game 3, just as so much of Game 1 was erased in the Miami deluge. That's the kind of series this is going to be. Parker will make adjustments to the Miami defensive scheme. The Heat will continue to look for ways to get James untracked and give Bosh opportunities in the post. Each game promises to be a new chapter in what is shaping up to be an epic and eventful series between two teams who are incredibly resourceful and completely unintimidated by the stage.
The Spurs got their split and the Heat did their part by evening things up at a game apiece. Both teams did what they had to do to get to this point and now things really get interesting. The pressure has shifted back to San Antonio who must realistically win two of the next three on their home floor. This is what we all came here to see. This is what we expect out of the two best teams in the league.
There is, however, a nagging feeling leftover from Miami's impressive display. If the Heat can do this on a somewhat regular basis then the series is essentially over. The Spurs are many things, but they are not built to withstand that kind of onslaught. No one in the NBA can truly handle it. They played something close to a perfect game in the opener and earned a victory as a result. They were less than that in Game 2 and got blown out.
Somewhat incredibly, San Antonio has only won one of the eight quarters so far in the two games. Miami has been better in five and two have been played to a draw. This is what the Heat are capable of, even on a night when LeBron James looked tired and worn down. The Spurs will have to be better, much better, at home and even then they know in the back of their mind that all their finely honed execution and discipline can be undone in a matter of minutes.