This was LeBron James, having a bad game:
San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter drives to the basket with a head of steam, winding up his arm for a highlight-reel slam Sunday night … except LeBron rises with him, mashes his right hand on the ball and rejects the shot in a dunk-denying block that blows the roof off the downtown bayside arena.
James pounds both fists on his chest and screams into the din he’d created.
A moment later in the fourth quarter, LeBron takes a pass after a steal, moves down the court like a locomotive moves on a track, and finishes a slam dunk that leaves him briefly swinging from the rim as the crowd swoons anew.
Miami routed San Antonio 103-84 to even this NBA Finals at 1-1 on a night when LeBron had only eight points on 3-for-13 shooting after three quarters before a late burst gave him 17 for the night, along with eight rebounds and seven assists.
This was LeBron, having a bad game — “bad game” being a relative term.
LeBron is so good, even his bad games are good games.
Only this guy can have an off game (for him) and still fashion the night’s single most memorable play — that one-man blockade on Splitter.
“I just wanted to make an impact in some way,” James said. “Offensively, it was a struggle for me. I just wanted to make a play and I was able to protect the rim. I thought to myself, ‘You’re [going to be] on SportsCenter one way or another. Going to get dunked-on or get a block. I was on the right side of that top-10 play.”
The theme most of this postseason has been that LeBron isn’t getting enough help. On Sunday, he got enough help. Plenty.
And so Miami did what Miami does.
The funniest thing about fans’ and media hand-wringing consternation and even panic that follows most every Heat loss is how thoroughly unnecessary it is.
Do we get it yet? Have we finally learned?
Miami does not lose consecutive games.
It is one of the lock-solid certainties in all of sports. In all of life, perhaps.
There is death and taxes. There is Justin Bieber attracting undo publicity. And there is the Heat winning immediately after it has lost.
And winning emphatically.
Winning in a way that pretty much shakes a collective fist at all of the premature concern and screams, “Do not doubt us!”
The Heat, which last lost consecutive games on Jan. 8 and 10 — six months ago — has since gone 11-0 after losses, and by an average margin of 19.8 points.
This isn’t to put too positive a spin on it. Miami now faces three consecutive games in San Antonio, where the Heat must win at least once to stay alive and twice to wrest firm control of its repeat-title dreams.
But if Sunday was any indication, well, do not underestimate the Heat, that’s all.
Especially after a night when Miami has reminded that it can beat an elite opponent on a major stage — when it absolutely must — even when the team’s Most Valuable Player was a most invisible player, at least offensively, through three quarters.
So much help came from elsewhere.
Mario Chalmers led all scorers with 19 points. Ray Allen had 13 off the bench, and Mike Miller and Chris (Birdman) Andersen added nine apiece — the “role” players, rolling all over the Spurs.
“LeBron couldn’t get into a rhythm early on and other guys stepped up,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
James also got enough help from the rest of the Big 3, with Chris Bosh contributing 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Dwyane Wade chipping in 10 points with six assists.
Defense dominated on the other end.
“It was just the whole Miami team, killing us,” the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili said.
The Heat went on a monstrous 33-5 run starting late in the third quarter, and defense fueled that landslide.
San Antonio’s own Big 3 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili — combined for only 27 points on 10-for-33 shooting.
“I played awfully,” Duncan said.
Miami had something to do with that.
The Heat forced 17 Spurs turnovers after San Antonio had only four in its Game 1 win.
Now a tied series swings to San Antonio for three in a row, with every result sure to reshape perceptions on who will win or who is in trouble.
This two-week passion play is just getting started.
“Playoffs ain’t fun, man,” Wade said, trying to describe this swerving pressure and tension. “I’m sorry to bust anyone on the outside’s bubble, but, as a player, you have no joy until it’s all over and you won.”
Chalmers was asked afterward what it was like for his Heat teammates Sunday waiting for LeBron to finally get it going offensively.
His answer was spot-on perfect. It’s why Miami won. It’s why everything feels different [Monday].
“That’s the thing,” Chalmers said. “Nobody waited on him.”