Chris Bosh was wide open in the corner and the most unselfish player he has ever played with had the ball.
Bosh knew exactly what to expect. The Spurs did not.
After a Herculean performance in which he had already scored 35 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, LeBron James lowered his head and drove hard at the rim with his team trailing by a point. James had no intention of shooting, though, despite willing the Heat back into the game in the second quarter and simply taking it over in the third.
“I caught Tim Duncan peeking at me a bit, and I was able to find [Chris Bosh] in the corner in one of his favorite spots on the floor,” James said. “I got a lot of confidence in my teammates and they’ve got a lot of confidence in me and we live with the results.”
This time James didn’t cramp and this time Bosh didn’t miss.
After being carried off the court due leg cramps to begin the NBA Finals, James was an unstoppable force in Game 2, a 98-96 victory for the Heat that tied this best-of-7 NBA Finals 1-1. James was 14 of 22 from the field and 3 of 3 from three-point range, but it was his incredible pass at the end that won it for the defending back-to-back champions. The series now shifts to Miami with the Heat holding home-court advantage, and renewed confidence after another series-tying victory in a long list of clutch postseason performances. It was the Spurs’ first loss at AT&T Center since Game 2 of the first round.
“Just me knowing how LeBron is, you always have to be poised and ready to shoot the basketball,” Bosh said. “He’s the most unselfish player I’ve ever played with, and especially with the talent that he has playing the game, the way he plays the game. He doesn’t, you know, try to force anything.
“Even if he is hot, he’ll still hit you if you’re wide open. And that’s what makes this team special because your best player is willing to sacrifice a shot, a good shot for a great shot.”
Bosh’s three-pointer gave the Heat a 95-93 lead with 1:18 left. The Heat is now 13-0 in games following a playoff loss dating back to 2012, and Bosh’s clutch shot was almost identical to his game-winning basket earlier in the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets.
Bosh, of course, also missed a corner three-pointer against the Pacers with a chance to win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“He’s one of the most stable mentally tough guys I’ve ever been around,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s why it raises the hair on the back of my neck when people question him. He has absolutely championship DNA. It’s that mental toughness that comes through because he understands he’s going to be criticized from the outside, because of how we ask him to play, which is paramount. That’s critical for our success.”
Bosh finished with 18 points and Dwyane Wade and Rashard Lewis had 14 points each. Tony Parker had 21 points and Tim Duncan finished with 18. Spurs sixth-man Manu Ginobili had 19 points off the bench.
“We’ve got to be close to perfect to win and today we were far from itand now we are in a tough situation because we’ve got to go to Miami and get one,” Ginobili said. “We don’t want to come back here down 3-1. It’s tough to come back from that.”
The Heat hasn’t trailed by two games in a series since James joined the team in 2010. The Heat last lost two playoff games in a row in 2012 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. Against the Celtics, the Heat trailed 3-2 in the series before winning a pair of games to advance to The Finals.
Sunday provided the finish the NBA deserved after the oppressive heat forced James from the fourth quarter in Game 1.
A reverse layup by Chris Andersen put the Heat ahead 92-90 with 2:49 to play, but Parker countered with a three-pointer to give the Spurs the advantage, 93-92, with 2:26 left. The Heat called a timeout, but Bosh missed a three-pointer from the corner. He redeemed himself a minute later.
Following Bosh’s three-pointer, Ginobili committed the Spurs’ 11th turnover of the game on San Antonio’s next possession and then James made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line with 47 seconds left. Following a miss by Ginobili, Wade finished off the Spurs with a wide-open layup under the basket.
The Heat outscored the Spurs 44-34 on points in the paint after being dominated inside in Game 1. Led by James, the Heat shot 52.9 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from three-point range (8 of 19). Lewis was 3 of 7 from three-point range.
A three-pointer by Lewis with 9:37 left in the game gave the Heat an 83-80 lead with James resting on the bench. Bosh started the fourth quarter off with an impressive dunk over Tiago Splitter, who hammered Bosh as he finished the field goal. Bosh converted the and-one free throw for a three-point play to give the Heat a tenuous two-point lead.
It didn’t last.
James checked in with his team leading, but the Spurs stormed back to take a two-point lead with 7:44 remaining on a three-pointer by Danny Green. The Spurs then missed an opportunity to create some distance when their two biggest stars missed four consecutive free throws on one possession.
“It was a tough one,” Ginobili said. “We missed all four and that hurts.”
The sequence started with a flagrant foul by Mario Chalmers on Parker. After Parker’s misses, Duncan went to the line and missed two more. James made San Antonio pay, answering with a fadeaway three-pointer with 6:09 left to put the Heat ahead 88-87.
A pair of free throws by James gave the Heat a three-point lead, but Spurs forward Boris Diaw knocked down a clutch three-pointer from the corner to tie the score at 90.
It was a magnificent third quarter by James, who went 6 of 7 from the field and 2 of 2 from three-point range in the period for 14 points. After beginning the game with two points in the first quarter, James went 11 of 14 from the field through the second and third quarters.
The Spurs raced ahead by six points in the third quarter behind a pair of three-pointers by Kawhi Leonard, but James answered with eight points in a row, including a pair of three-pointers. From there, James went into overdrive.
A timeout by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich couldn’t slow down the Heat’s back-to-back NBA Finals MVP. James added and 18-foot, step-back jumper and 20-foot jumper to give the Heat a 69-64 lead with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
A 15-3 run gave the Heat its first lead of the game with 5:07 left in the second quarter. Ray Allen started the run with a wide-open three-pointer and Popovich immediately called timeout to prevent any hint offensive momentum for the Heat.
The timeout prevented nothing, though. Wade went inside with a layup for his first field goal of the game and James followed with a pair of driving layups that seemed to kick-start the Heat’s confidence. A put-back dunk by James after an impressive offensive rebound cut the Spurs’ lead to two points, and, following a technical foul on Duncan, James knocked down a free throw and then grabbed another offensive rebound, which he converted for a layup.
After watching his team fall behind by 11 points, James willed the Heat back into the game, but the individual effort took a toll. James called for a substitution with 4:55 remaining in the first half. With James out of the game, the Heat quickly fell behind by five points. James re-entered the game and the Heat reeled off a quick run to tie the score, 43-43, at halftime.
“I just continued to attack,” said James, who started the game 1-of-5 shooting.