MIAMI — The hangover from the arduous seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers appears gone and the Miami Heat team that dominated the rest of the NBA this season made its long-awaited NBA Finals appearance Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
A scintillating 33-5 run that began with a routine Mario Chalmers 3-point play late in the third period was perhaps the finest stretch of Heat basketball this season. LeBron James, who was having a mysteriously poor game before the surge, was whipping the ball to teammates. Mike Miller and Ray Allen were draining 3-pointers, and Chalmers was scoring at will.
The Heat amassed a stirring team effort to pound the overwhelmed Spurs, 103-84, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, evening the series with Game 3 set for Tuesday night in San Antonio.
James struggled from the field, but sparked his club with pinpoint passing, aggressive rebounding, and a game-defining block of a Tiago Splitter dunk with 8:20 left in the fourth quarter. After the block, James stood in the lane and admired his work as his teammates raced down for a fast break and the home crowd went into a frenzy.
The Spurs led, 62-61, with 3:50 left after a Danny Green layup, making matters anxious. Chalmers sparked a 15-3 run to end the period and then the Heat saw blood and attacked in the fourth, scoring the first 9 points.
James capped the run with a bruising layup, pumping up the crowd after the hoop. The Spurs, meanwhile, were erratic offensively, relying on the 3-pointer to stay close but unable to make open jumpers or layups. The trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard were a combined 12-for-39 shooting. Parker was badly outplayed by Chalmers, who finished with a game-high 19 points.
Five Heat players finished in double figures and Miami canned 10 of 19 3-pointers and shot 49.4 percent. It was perhaps the Heats’s best performance of the postseason and it came at the perfect time.
And the play of the game was James’s snuff of Splitter, who attempted a tomahawk dunk with the lane apparently free. James stepped up and challenged the shot. And the result was ghastly for the Spurs.
“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. “I just wanted to make an impact in some way. I was the last line of the defense. I just pride myself on that side of the floor, honestly. I was going to try to protect the rim the best way I could.”
The Heat’s supporting cast has often been criticized this season for failing to adequately support James. But the four-time MVP has been insistent on getting his teammates involved. He attempted just 17 shots, driving into the lane, drawing defenders, and then kicking it out to 3-point shooters. His unselfishness irked the sold-out crowd at times — until those long-range shots began falling.
Miami converted 6 of 11 3-pointers in the second half with Allen and Miller combining for four. The Spurs have held James to 35 total points in the series but when his teammates reward his distribution with critical baskets, the Heat are difficult to overcome.
“I think LeBron is the type of player where you have to pay a lot of attention to, and it’s not something that happens that often that he scores less than 20,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili. “But I don’t think that was the difference why they beat us so badly in the second half. In their run, it was Chalmers who scored. We turned the ball over. It wasn’t just LeBron attacking us or getting those 13 points that you are talking about. It was just the whole Miami team that was killing us.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively, and they got confident and they started to move the ball and rotations were late. So it’s not that he just turned it on. It was Miami that turned it on.”
Parker, pivotal in the fourth quarter of Game 1, was harassed by the Miami defense, which elected to double-team shooters after San Antonio’s first-half 3-point barrage.
The pressure took effect and Parker was frantic running away from defenders. He scored 3 points in the second half as the Spurs looked disheveled and erratic on offense.
Chalmers, a fiery player who has had his share of duels with the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, scored on a conventional 3-point play with 9.8 seconds left in the third quarter for a 75-65 lead. For Miami, which has spent the season pounding opponents and notching sizeable victories, it was its first double-digit lead of the series.
After the basket, Chalmers walked toward the halfcourt line and motioned to James.
“I felt like we had them on the ropes at the time. I told him, ‘Let’s go for the kill.’ ” Chalmers said. “He said, ‘I’m with you.’ It just gave everybody that mental edge to go for the kill. We wanted to put them away and send them a message.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.