The best player on the planet showed why in a scintillating third quarter, then delivered the key pass to Chris Bosh in the corner in the final minute and a half to seal the Heat's 98-96 Game 2 victory. The series is now tied at 1.
After four MVPs, two titles and a decade of excellence, it's no surprise when LeBron James gets into one of those irrepressible grooves. But no matter how many times we've seen it, the sheer spectacle bewitches us and, regardless on your rooting preference, raises your heartbeat enough to feel it.
In the third quarter, LeBron was there. After pushing his defenders (usually Kawhi Leonard) into the paint for the entire first half, LeBron ventured onto the perimeter. Kawhi got himself into foul trouble trying to handle an attacking LeBron, so Gregg Popovich turned to Boris Diaw, who is a fairly good option on James (insomuch as there are any good options). LeBron responded by unleashing a torrent of makes. He scored eight points in less than a minute, all on jumpers, and added four more within the next 90 minutes. Before LeBron's explosion, Miami trailed by three. After the three minutes of Bron, the Heat lead by five.
And that was just a sliver of LeBron's fantastic night. At the end of the game, he did what James always seems to do: he trusted his teammates, setting up Chris Bosh for the go-ahead corner three. That's what makes him the world's best player. He's not just a scorer who gets hot at the right moments, or a shutdown 6'8 defender you can stick on one of the quickest point guards in the NBA in the fourth quarter. He's those things and maybe the league's smartest playmaker. He's everything, the platonic ideal of an NBA player. And when he's on, he's just an incredible thrill to watch. -Tom Ziller
An unSpurs-like finish
In the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Spurs were virtually flawless. In the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Spurs were deeply flawed.
Everybody knows that ball movement is the key to San Antonio’s success on offense. When that ball movement disappears, bad things happen. Down the stretch, there were too many possessions that ended in bad step backs by Manu Ginobili or overly ambitious dribble-drives by Boris Diaw.
It’s clear this series is going to be incredibly close and each game will be decided in the final moments. That means the Spurs can’t do things like miss four free throws in a row or forget that their offense becomes extremely stoppable when the quick passing evaporates. San Antonio shot 46.2 percent through the first quarters, but that number plummeted to 35.3 percent in the fourth. When the Spurs break from their system, it becomes much harder for them to get high percentage looks. San Antonio took 32 shots at the rim in Game 2, but only five of those came in the final period.
The Heat were able to stick to their game plan for 48 minutes and they were rewarded with a victory. Meanwhile, Gregg Popovich's team got away from their identity and were burned. As the series shifts to Miami, the Spurs can't give in to the temptation of going one-on-one in the game’s waning moments. -Conrad Kaczmarek
Win the game ... like a Bosh
The best player in the world didn't think twice about passing to Chris Bosh for an open three-pointer with the game on the line, even though he was getting whatever he wanted. The last time this exact scenario played out was in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, when Bosh missed the shot, Miami lost the game and a certain segment of fans thought LeBron James shied away from the moment. In reality, James' decision to pass said more about Bosh than it did about himself.
Bosh rewarded James' confidence this time around, drilling a three from right corner to give Miami a two-point lead they would never relinquish. Two possessions later, Bosh put the ball on the floor and fed Dwyane Wade for layup that iced the victory. Even on a night that was so clearly defined by James' individual brilliance, the Heat wouldn't have won without a tremendous two-way performance from Bosh.
James and Wade still might garner most of the attention, but Bosh is no less consequential. He placed a premium on winning when he willingly gave up his role as a lead actor to play a supporting role in Miami. His evolution as a legitimate three-point shooter makes the Heat's offense nearly impossible to defend when everyone is playing well. His defense against Tim Duncan in the second half quietly helped turn a close game towards Miami.
That makes Bosh the ideal teammate for James. Who else can defend the post against Duncan and also hit clutch three-pointers? Bosh may rarely get the spotlight to himself these days, but something tells us that's just fine with him. -Ricky O'Donnell
How Bosh's three happened
Chris Bosh sure seems to find himself open in the corner at the end of games often. How did it happens this time? Thank the Heat's persistence.
Miami had been working hard to force a switch on LeBron throughout the fourth quarter. The Spurs never bit, but James occasionally declined the picks and got to the basket anyway. On this play, though, Mario Chalmers didn't stop after failing to knocks off Kawhi Leonard the first time. He came to the other side, held Tony Parker in place (perhaps illegally) and positioned him so Leonard would be screened off by his own man.
That gave James all the space he needed to get into the lane, and Tim Duncan had to make the impossible choice between helping on a James drive or staying at home on Bosh. Duncan helped, James flung a perfect pass and Bosh rewarded his faith with the eventual game-winner.
As usual, there's more to a Heat dagger than what meets the eye. -Mike Prada
A center makes a big flop. A point guard makes a tiny flop. A superstar makes a superstar flop. A benchwarmer makes a benchwarmer flop.
Dwyane Wade didn't get hit in the face, but he acted like he got hit in the face. We're going to make fun of him, because he looked stupid as hell doing so. Also, because he plays alongside LeBron James, who has been known to dabble in the flopping arts.
Here's the thing, though: when you criticize a player for flopping, you're criticizing them for doing a thing that the players on your team do as well. Manu Ginobili flops with gusto. Tony Parker's been warned for flopping. Tiago Splitter got fined for flopping in the Western Conference Finals.
Until referees learn to instantaneously and effectively distinguish the difference between a person who has been knocked in some direction and a person exaggerating that they've been knocked in a certain direction, successful basketball players will flop, because flopping leads to fouls on the other team and those are good for winning. Mock Dwyane, but know what he did isn't just something The Other Guys do. -Rodger Sherman
NBA Finals schedule
Game 1: Spurs 110, Heat 95 James (25 pts), Bosh (19 pts, 9 rebs)Duncan (21 pts), Ginobili (16 pts, 11 ast)
Game 2: Heat 98, Spurs 96 James (35 pts, 10 rebs), Bosh (18 pts)Parker (21 pts), Duncan (18 pts, 15 rebs)
Game 3 on Tuesday, June 109 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CTABCAmerican Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
Game 4 on Thursday, June 129 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CTABCAmerican Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
Game 5 on Sunday, June 15*8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CTABCAT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
Game 6 on Tuesday, June 17*9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CTABCAmerican Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
Game 7 on Friday, June 20*9 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CTABCAT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
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