Observations from Game 2 of the NBA Finals:
• If there was something not quite right during the drudgery of the Heat’s regular season, it was pretty clear: The defensive intensity and precision and detail too often weren’t up to the standards Pat Riley and his successors demand in this no-excuses Heat culture. Chris Bosh complained in March that the Heat “couldn’t stop a nosebleed.”
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The Heat’s field-goal percentage against, in the top six each of the previous three seasons of the Big 3 era, slid to 15th. The Heat relinquished 2 1/2 more points per game both this season, and this postseason, than a year ago.
The Heat’s defense again malfunctioned to start Game 2, with the Spurs opening 13 for 21 from the field, repeatedly penetrating into the paint and scoring an easy basket off an inbounds pass that left Dwyane Wade throwing up his hands in disgust.
But then something simple and critical happened: “We got in ’em more,” as LeBron James put it.
The Heat’s defense was exemplary for most of the fourth quarter, and that was one of the two biggest reasons for this win, along with James’ monster eruption.
Spurs shots in the fourth were fiercely challenged, with just a few exceptions. Close-outs on three-point shooters were quick and decisive. More often than not, Heat defenders kept Spurs players from driving past them, as Ray Allen did against Manu Ginobili on two late possessions that ended with a turnover and missed jumper. “I got lucky,” Allen said.
After shooting 14 for 16 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Spurs were 6 of 17 in Game 2. San Antonio closed at 43.9 percent from the field after shooting 58.8 percent in Game 1.
“We forced them to make shots over the top,” Allen said. “Better attention to detail.”
Wade said, “We switched a little but gave them different looks. Guards were fighting over screens.”
The Heat fouled too much early in the fourth, putting the Spurs in the bonus for the final 6:42, but San Antonio missed four of six fourth-quarter free throws.
Part of this was maniacal effort. But there were other nuances. The Heat changed up its pick-and-roll defense at times to “throw them off,” as Rashard Lewis said.
And this was huge: Erik Spoelstra had a player with size defend Tony Parker for much of the second half — James primarily and Wade at times.
And Chris Andersen (for large doses), Bosh and Lewis kept Tim Duncan in check the final third quarters. Duncan shot 5 for 6 in the first quarter, just 2 for 8 after that.
• You had to love Bosh’s attacking mentality. He didn’t even attempt a three-pointer until the fourth quarter, and his three with 1:18 left put the Heat ahead for good.
“One of the most stable, mentally tough guys I’ve ever been around,” Spoelstra said. “That’s why it raises the hair on the back of my neck when people question him.”
Bosh said if James is the most-targeted player in the NBA, “I’m probably No.2.” But more is needed on the glass than his three rebounds in 36 minutes.
• Spoelstra went slightly deeper into his bench, bypassing Shane Battier and opting instead for cameos for James Jones and Udonis Haslem.
Twice during these playoffs, James publicly expressed a desire for Jones to play more. Twice, Jones has played in the next game. Jones logged nearly seven minutes, one fewer than he had played since the start of the Eastern Conference finals. Jones missed both of his shots, but he helps spread the floor when James is on the court.
• Biggest revelation of these Heat playoffs? Rashard Lewis, who played just 22 minutes between Feb. 1 and March 25. Lewis not only hit three three-pointers on a 14-point night but made a couple of nifty moves around the basket.
• Quick stuff: The Heat is now plus-11 with James on the court in this series and minus-24 with him off. The Heat has won at least one road playoff game in 16 consecutive series, extending its NBA-record streak. That’s remarkable. So is Miami winning 13 playoff games in a row after losses. ... With Duncan hauling in 15 rebounds and Boris Diaw 10, James’ 10 rebounds and Andersen’s nine were huge. And Wade had seven.