The other guys evened the series.
For much of Sunday’s pivotal Game 2 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James was in a postseason trance unlike anything he has experienced since the 2011 Finals. He finally snapped out of it, but by that time it didn’t really matter. Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Ray Allen had already put the game away.
In perhaps the biggest game of his professional career, Chalmers led all scorers with 19 points in the Heat’s 103-84 victory against the San Antonio Spurs at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Tied 1-1, the best-of-7 series now shifts to Texas for three consecutive games before returning to Miami for Games 6 and 7, if necessary.
The way this series is going, the maximum number of games seems inevitable. Miami hasn’t lost back-to-back games since early January.
With the Heat’s offense in disarray in the third quarter, Chalmers stepped in for a struggling James as the Heat’s offensive catalyst. It was a bold move, but not out of character for the Heat’s starting point guard, who is known for his cocksure attitude.
Chalmers’ three-point play gave Miami a 64-62 lead with 3:11 left in the third quarter. It sparked a rally that didn’t really end until the final buzzer sounded. After Chalmers’ play, the Heat outscored the Spurs 42-22.
“You can’t teach that quality, the big-game guts,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Chalmers.
Chalmers met with James momentarily at midcourt after sinking his driving layup following Danny Green’s foul on that key play in the third quarter.
“I felt like we had them on the ropes at that time and I told him let’s go for the kill,” Chalmers said.
“I’m with you,” James replied.
Chalmers then coolly walked to the line and stroked his foul shot. Finally, James had found someone else to help him carry the load.
“He has to play big for us in multiple facets,” James said of Chalmers. “Defensively, he’s guarding arguably the best point guard in the league, but he also has to make Tony [Parker] work on the defensive end.”
All the talk entering Game 2 revolved around James’ teammates doing more to help their leader. Those players apparently were paying attention. James finished with 17 points, a postseason low, but enjoyed watching the blowout from the bench in the final minutes all the same. He also had eight rebounds and seven assists.
“Ray [Allen], Mike Miller and Rio made big play after big play for us,” James said. “My shooters just need a little bit of room.”
The Heat was 10 of 19 from three-point range (52.6 percent), with Miller, Allen and Chalmers combining to go 8 of 12 from distance. Miller went 3 of 3 from three-point range for nine points, and Allen was 5 of 8 overall and 3 of 5 from three-point range for 13 points. Chalmers was 6-of-12 shooting and 2 of 4 from three-point range.
“That’s why they’re the defending champs,” Parker said. “They have great role players.”
Miller’s third three-pointer gave the Heat a 15-point lead with 10:31 to play, and Chalmers and James followed with baskets to complete a 14-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. It gave the Heat an 84-65 lead with 9:11 to play.
That’s when James delivered one of the best defensive plays of the series, blocking a dunk attempt by Spurs center Tiago Splitter. While James began the game 2 of 12 from the field, his all-around effort helped the Heat remain within striking distance of the Spurs until James’ role players took over.
“It’s a great performance,” Spoelstra said, scoffing at a question that James wasn’t being aggressive enough. “We’ve been in this fishbowl now for three years. That doesn’t really make sense that he wasn’t being aggressive. He’s creating opportunities for us. It just might not be in the way you’re accustomed to.”
Meanwhile, the Spurs were struggling through their own problems. Tim Duncan finished the game 3 of 13 from the field and the Spurs Big 3 of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili combined to score 23 points.
“We had basically no shot at winning a game against them if none of us played good, so we’ve got to step up and play better,” Ginobili said of the Spurs’ Big 3.
Said Duncan: “I’m getting the shots I want. I’ve just got to knock them out.”
Danny Green led the Spurs with 17 points, going 6 of 6 from the field and 5 of 5 from three-point range. San Antonio shot 41 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers. In Game 1, San Antonio committed just four turnovers.
“Missing shots, not shooting well and turning it over are a bad combination,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Dwyane Wade had 10 points, shooting 5 of 13 from the field to go along with six assists, and Chris Bosh had 12 points on 10 shots. Bosh also had 10 rebounds, giving him an important Finals double-double. Chris Andersen finished with nine points, including seven points in the first half.
“I think the supporting cast is really why both teams are here,” James said. “They’ve been making an impact all year long, and they feel like their supporting cast is better. We feel like our supporting cast is better. It’s who goes out and do it each and every night to help seal wins.”