LeBron James has a history of bouncing back strong after playoff defeats. (Andy Lyons/NBAE/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO -- Something has to give Sunday, when two impressive streaks will collide head-to-head in Game 2 of the Finals.
The Spurs, fresh off a 110-95 victory in Game 1 that drew headlines because of an air conditioning system malfunction, have won nine straight home games during the postseason. San Antonio has also set an NBA record by winning their last eight straight home playoff games by at least 15 points each. The average score of those eight games against the Mavericks, Blazers, Thunder and Heat? Spurs 114, Opponent 92, making for a 22-point average margin of victory.
If the Spurs are riding one of the most imposing home-court advantages the NBA has ever seen, the Heat have spent years cultivating their identity as an absolutely relentless team in bounce-back scenarios. Miami has not lost two consecutive postseason games since the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, when the Celtics won Games 3, 4 and 5 before the Heat won Games 6 and 7. Since then, Miami has made it through eight straight series without losing back-to-back games.
What's more, the Heat have often played their best basketball and dominated the competition following losses. Miami has won its last 12 straight postseason games after a loss by an average of 15 points.
"Our group has been pretty good at developing some mental toughness of owning what we need to do better," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said on Saturday. "That's usually the first step. It's not the only step but it's the first step to trying to get on the right track."
As you might expect, Miami's success in these bounce-back games has often been driven by LeBron James, who has averaged 29.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists in Miami's 12 straight bounce back postseason victories.
- With the Heat's backs against the walls after those three straight losses to the Celtics, James posted 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on the road in Game 6, marking one of the greatest performances of his career.
- After a Game 1 loss to the Thunder in the 2012 Finals, James finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists to win Game 2 in Oklahoma City.
- Indiana pushed Miami to seven games with a Game 6 win in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, but James replied with 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists to close out the Pacers in a Game 7 blowout victory.
- James struggled in Game 3 of the 2013 Finals against the Spurs, scoring just 15 points on 21 shots during a 36-point Spurs win that put the Heat into a 2-1 hole. In Game 4, James tallied 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to lead Miami to a double-digit victory and even the series.
- Facing elimination in the 2013 Finals against San Antonio, down 3-2, James registered a triple-double -- 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists -- in Miami's instant classic Game 6 victory that is best remembered for Ray Allen's clutch corner three.
- Brooklyn managed its only win of the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals in Game 3, and James responded by killing their hopes for good with 49 points, six rebounds and two assists in an emphatic Game 4 victory.
- Foul trouble kept James on the sidelines for much of Indiana's Game 5 victory in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals, with Lance Stephenson pulling out his full bag of tricks along the way. James sent Stephenson and the Pacers into the offseason with a 25-point, six-rebound, three-assist performance in just 33 minutes in a Game 6 closeout victory.
A double bounce back is at play on Sunday. Not only did the Heat lose Game 1, but they lost James to leg cramps down the stretch. Miami gave up fourth-quarter runs of 10-4 and 16-3 to San Antonio when James was sidelined, failing to protect the paint against Tim Duncan (21 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds) throughout Game 1 and losing track of Danny Green (11 fourth-quarter point) during the deciding sequence.
"We had a lot of carnage to go through [Friday] in the film and today working through what we need to do better and harder," Spoelstra admitted on Saturday.
After two days of rest and hydration, enough time for the soreness to dissipate, James promised that he would be at "100 percent" health for Game 2. He appeared loose as he joked with media members and his teammates during a Saturday practice session, an ease seemingly borne of familiar circumstances.
"We have experienced it enough," James said Saturday, when asked about Miami's ability to rally immediately after postseason defeats. "Obviously we don't like [gaining] experience in losses but it happens. We're able to bounce back, go to the film room, take account and not just bypass the mistakes we had in the previous game. I think it's allowed us to move on and better ourselves for the next game."
Although he mostly blew off the scattered social media criticism that came his way because he was forced to watch from the sidelines during crunch time, James added that he was aware of what was said by Gatorade and others. He also referred to himself the "easiest target in sports" in an ESPN interview, suggesting that he might be processing a little fuel for the fire.
"Don't worry, you guys can talk about me as much as you want," James declared on Friday. "I'll be there on Sunday as well. I'm not hiding."
For the record, James finished with a triple-double -- 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists -- in Miami's closeout win in Game 5 of the 2012 Finals against the Thunder, one game after cramps kept him out down the stretch of the Heat's Game 4 win. Does he have a similar night in store after Thursday's Cramp Game?
San Antonio is fully aware of Miami's strength after losses, as they watched James and the Heat respond to losses in Games 1, 3 and 5 in the 2013 Finals with wins, including a Game 4 victory in San Antono. The Spurs also seemed to expect an A-level effort from James following the unusual circumstances in Game 1.
"That's why they are two-time champs," Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "To win championships, you have to face adversity and come back from any situation, and they've [proven] that over the years. ... We can't be satisfied because we were in the same situation [in 2013] and we know they can win here. ... I think [LeBron] is going to be great [on Sunday], 100 percent [healthy], and he's the best player in the world."
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