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NBA Finals Game 2: The Response

Paolo Uggetti |
June 8, 2014 | 11:43 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

One of Lebron's drives to the hoop as he finished with a game-high 35 points. (@ESPNNBA/Twitter)
One of Lebron's drives to the hoop as he finished with a game-high 35 points. (@ESPNNBA/Twitter)
Now this, is more like it. 

When the Spurs and the Heat advanced to the Finals, we knew we were in for a dramatic rematch. The two best teams in the league going at it for the title once again. Close, evenly-matched, thrilling games were expected, and Game 2 certainly delivered on every level. 

Game 1 was no slouch, by any means, but anomalies abounded and as the Spurs found their groove, the Heat faded all the while LeBron was unable to play a role late in the game. Game 2 however, was a much different story. 

Under Pressure

Miami came in knowing a win was necessary, and that consequently placed them under the most pressure. The first quarter was a testament to that. Lebron started 1-4 from the field, and the Heat as a whole looked out of sorts. San Antonio took advantage and jumped out to an early lead, mostly due to the fact that Duncan dominated the paint and only missed one of his first five shots. But somehow, someway, Miami kept it close. The defense certainly helped as they held San Antonio to 26 points, when frankly, it could have been much worse. The first quarter ended 26-19, but the sense that prevailed was that the Spurs should have been up by more than that.

That was a good sign for Miami, who suddenly looked more alive in the second quarter. Well, at least LeBron certainly did. James knew that two points in a quarter was simply not going to cut it. Wisely, he didn’t settle for low-percentage, mid-range jumpers, but rather drove to the paint and was finishing everything in sight giving him 11 points in the second quarter and 13 for the half of which this one was his best:   

(via @cjzero/Twitter)
(via @cjzero/Twitter)

Had it not been for LeBron’s second quarter stream of points, who knows how Miami would have kept up, let alone come away with the win. Wade looked increasingly out of sorts and only had four points in the first half. Bosh had a more respectable eight points, but Rashard Lewis, Mario Chalmers and the rest of the supporting cast were of little help and increasingly inconsistent especially in the first 24 minutes of play.

Not only did James’ contribution come in the form of points, but he also got shut-down defender Kawhi Leonard into foul trouble. Given the close margin at which the game was played and the close margin at which it ended, it’s hard not to look at the foul trouble as a big reason for the Spurs’ downfall. Moreover, barring a couple of three-pointers, Danny Green was basically a non-factor in Game 2 due to the foul trouble he was in from the get-go. Leonard ended up fouling out late in the game, much in part to James’ aggressiveness throughout.

Taking Matters Into His Own Hands

If LeBron’s second quarter outburst was him keeping his team in it, the second half’s dominant takeover was him putting his team over the top. If you still had any doubts about him being the most complete player in the game, this game should have put those to rest for good. LeBron, like he's done all his life, deflected the criticism of the past three days and responded the best way he knows how. By letting his game speak for itself. And boy, did it speak loudly.   

Unlike his first half full of drives to the paint and finishing layups, LeBron resorted to his jumpshot in the second. Continuously pulling up from the elbows, he gradually got his confidence going and the shots just kept falling. He was a dominant 6-of-7 from the field in the third quarter, and the Spurs simply had no answer for him. At one point he went off for 12 straight points, all part of a 14-point third quarter where he finally had an epiphany that he needed to take matters into his own hands. Simply put, the most complete player in the game played the most complete game he could and beat the Spurs in every possible way.

Lebron's scoring in the first half and second half. (@JADubin5/Twitter)
Lebron's scoring in the first half and second half. (@JADubin5/Twitter)

The Big Un-Fundamental...?

On the other side, Duncan suddenly disappeared and it was only by Parker’s consistent play and the effort of the bench, comprised of Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, that stopped LeBron from ending this one early. Given that LeBron ended the game with 35 points and the Spurs still had a shot to win the game in the last minute, the Heat appear greatly dependent on James. But as much as LeBron put his team in a prime position to win, the thing that most swung the game Miami’s way was San Antonio playing at their worst fundamentally. 

With 6:43 left in the fourth and the Spurs up by one point, Chalmers fouled Parker under the basket, leading to a controversial flagrant foul being called. Parker, an 80-percent free-throw shooter this season, got two free-throws and possession of the ball, but he uncharacteristically missed both shots. The following possession, Duncan was fouled, and repeated the crime by missing both free-throws as well. LeBron then followed that up with one of his three 3-point shots of the night. “We can’t miss four free-throws in a row,” said coach Gregg Popovich after the game. That six-point swing did not happen at the end of the game, but it loomed large as the Heat would win by the slim margin of two points.

Pick Your Poison

Surprisingly though, the shot that clinched the win did not come from the player of the night. 

“I wanted to impose my will any way I could," said LeBron after the game. For most of the night, imposing his will meant scoring in every possibly way; but when it came to the shot that gave the Heat the lead for good, LeBron unselfishly became a facilitator once again. 

With 1:39 left in the game, Lebron had the ball in his hands and looked primed to hit the go-ahead shot himself. Nobody would have blamed him, he had been unstoppable the whole night. He drove towards the basket like he did all of the first half, but instead of finishing at the rim, he selflessly turned into a passer and dished out to an open Bosh who buried his only 3-point shot of the night. Perfect timing. 

(via @jga41agher/Twitter)
(via @jga41agher/Twitter)

That’s what is so great about James. He can completely dominate a ballgame better than anyone, but he will just as quickly give up the ball to a wide-open man if he thinks that he will have a better shot. He genuinely trusts his teammates, and Game 2 proved even further that his presence on the floor alone opens up driving lanes for Wade and open threes for the likes of Bosh, Chalmers and Lewis that he will never hesitate to use. With him, all you can do is pick your poison and hope the antidote is strong enough.

Tonight, he showed his versatility by scoring 35 points and having 10 assists, but it goes without saying that his importance and dominance is not so easily defined or indicated by the box score alone. After two games one thing is clear though: as Lebron goes, so does this Miami team, and if they pull this off, he will have to repeat this kind of performance perhaps more than once. 

With the “cramp game” now thankfully in our rearview mirror and the series tied at one game apiece, the teams now travel to Miami for Game 3 on Tuesday night. If tonight’s game was any indication of what a competitive game should look like between these two teams, then in the words of Clark Kellogg, “Buckle up, because it’s gonna be a good one.” 

You can reach Staff Writer Paolo Uggetti here, or follow him on Twitter here



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