MIAMI -- Isn't this everything the Spurs would have wanted? In two games of the NBA Finals they'd seized home-court advantage while limiting LeBron James to 35 points, which was hardly more than James had been scoring in single games of the previous round against Indiana. And yet the Spurs weren't sure whether to feel good or bad about their plan.
"You can argue," said Tony Parker of whether the Spurs' formula against the world's best player was working or failing. "Obviously LeBron is unbelievable. But right now the other players are playing great too, so we can't have both."
This 103-84 rebuttal win by Miami in Game 2 sent the Heat onto San Antonio with renewed hope, and it leaves all who are watching with no idea of what to expect from what should now become a terrific series. Just when the Spurs thought they were squeezing the breath out of the defending champions, Miami responded with a 33-5 run that straddled the closing two quarters. For the Heat it was as if a short nightmare had given way to the original dream that brought James together with these teammates who helped carry him Sunday.
"It's not something that happens that often that he scores less than 20," said Manu Ginobili after watching James go 7-of-17 for his 17 points. "But I don't think that was the difference why they beat us so badly in the second half. It was [Mario] Chalmers who scored; we turned the ball over. It wasn't just LeBron attacking us -- it was just the whole Miami team was killing us."
This outcome took the long way around on its way to fulfilling the original idea that drew James here three years ago. He moved here because he wanted to find out how it felt to be Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or -- yes -- Tim Duncan. He wanted to go into a big game knowing how it felt to be helped by others instead of doing most of the helping. What he didn't want was for that dream to come true at such personal expense.
When the Heat were holding their scant 64-62 lead with 15 minutes remaining in the game they had to win, the argument could be made that James was losing his matchup against Kawhi Leonard, who had nine points and 13 rebounds, including seven from the offensive glass. James, in the meantime, had scored six points while going 2-for-12 from the field.
"When I was struggling offensively, my teammates continue to keep it in range," said James. "Rio [Chalmers], more than anybody, kept us aggressive, him getting into the paint, him getting those and-ones and making a couple of threes. It allowed me to sit back and wait for my time."
He was referring to the late third-quarter run of Chalmers, who penetrated for a pair of three-point drives while also feeding James for the layup that he would credit with re-involving him in the game. Threes by Ray Allen and Mike Miller combined with three Spurs turnovers down the stretch to drop San Antonio in a 75-65 hole entering the fourth.
The Heat added another 17 points to their advantage over the next five minutes, and it wasn't because James had reverted back to his Cleveland days. It wasn't because Dwyane Wade (10 points and six assists for the game overall) and Chris Bosh (12 points and 10 rebounds) were dominating, because neither scored while spending most of the fourth on the bench. When this game turned and the series turned with it, it was because Chalmers was on his way to a team-leading 19 points and Allen was providing 13 points overall on eight shots (3-of-5 threes).
"We have a lot of those guys," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "They feel most alive in these situations when you typically feel the most pressure. Drives me crazy sometimes in December and January, but when you get to this time of year, you like it."
The reason why Parker couldn't say whether the Spurs were using the right strategy against James was because there is no right strategy. Michael Jordan needed to score and that caused its own set of problems for everyone in his way. James needs to feel a sense of balance. He left Cleveland because he was tired of living the Jordan life. He didn't need to score, but then again he didn't need to go 2-for-12 either.
"What I do know is sharing the ball is contagious, and it allows everyone to feel involved in the offense," said James. "I know I attract a lot of attention. This team has been set up the right way, where when I do attract attention we have guys that can make plays. Tonight was another case of that: They packed the paint on me. I [saw] two bodies, unless I was in transition when I missed a couple of bunnies. But my shooters just need a little bit of room. Mike showed that, Ray showed that and Rio showed that tonight."
San Antonio knew Miami would play more aggressively Sunday after failing to create easy baskets in the opener. The Heat had forced more turnovers in the first 8:37 than the four that were committed by the Spurs over the previous 48 minutes of their Game 1 win. And yet this game was proceeding magically for the Spurs, as Danny Green was making all five of his threes and they were converting nine of their first 13 from the arc to heap pressure on the non-LeBrons. James would have pushed ahead the Miami lead early in the third quarter had he not failed on three straight possessions. It was everything the Spurs could have asked for -- to force the Heat's complementary producers to save their season.
"When we're at our best, you're not necessarily sure where the ball is going to end up," said Spoelstra. "And guys have to make the right decision to be able to do that."
Has the San Antonio strategy backfired now that Miller made all three of his threes? Now that the Heat dominated the game by way of James' eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks, including his dramatic stand against a fourth-quarter dunk by Tiago Splitter? Now that they transformed what promised to be a tight-necked final quarter into a blowout on a night when the Big Three of Miami combined for 39 points?
"The Big Three, I guess on both sides, you can rely on them at all times," said James. "But I think the supporting cast is really why both teams are here. They [the Spurs] feel like their supporting cast is better. We feel like our supporting cast is better. It's who goes out and does it each and every night to help seal wins."
That truth cannot be restated enough, and we're all going to be reminded of that over the games ahead. There is no right strategy to shut down James and the Heat any more so than there is a textbook that spells out how to clamp down on Parker and the Spurs. The reason they're here has been shown by the performances around their offensive leaders. All that this game resolved was the likelihood that San Antonio and Miami are probably going to need seven games before the championship is resolved.