Forget Thursday's 90-plus degree heat in San Antonio's AT&T Center. Sunday night, it was the "Miami" Heat that scorched the place in defeating the Spurs, 98-96, tying the best-of-seven NBA Finals series at one game apiece. But fundamentals were to play a big part in a fourth-quarter momentum swing that ended the Spurs' nine-game home playoff winning streak as well as their hopes of going up 2-0 before traveling back to Miami for Game 3 on Tuesday night.
Miami's LeBron James, playing as if he had something to prove after leaving with four minutes to go in Game 1 with leg cramps, was completely dominant, scoring a double-double, with 35 points and ten rebounds. Having visited a local yoga class earlier on Sunday, James seemed completely at ease, missing only eight of 22 field goal attempts and making all three of his shots from beyond the arc. His eleven points in the second quarter helped the Heat to erase an eleven-point deficit. He then scored 14 points in the third quarter to get the Heat to within a point of San Antonio, 78-77. He also kept his nemesis from last year's Finals, the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard, off-balance all night, causing Leonard to foul out mid-way through the fourth period.
But the Heat's margin of victory largely hinged on one play in the fourth quarter. On a drive to the hoop, Miami's Mario Chalmers committed a "flagrant-one" technical foul by elbowing the Spurs' Tony Parker hard in the chest, felling him. Parker missed his two foul shots, and shortly afterward, Tim Duncan uncharacteristically missed two consecutive free throws of his own, effectively deflating the Spurs' chances of catching the Heat.
Miami had four starters in double-figures, including three-point specialist Rashard Lewis, who hit three 3-pointers of his own on the way to a 14-point evening - all in a span of 26 minutes. The other two members of the Heat's core trident, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, notched 18 and 14 points, respectively. And the Spurs, despite 18 points and 15 rebounds from Tim Duncan and 21 points and seven assists from Tony Parker - as well as a bench that outscored Miami's, 37-12 - hit only 60% from the free throw line (to Miami's 76%).
In addition to Leonard, the Spurs' Manu Ginobili (19 points) and Danny Green were also battling foul trouble, causing the Spurs defense to loosen up a bit in the critical fourth quarter. In particular, Leonard's foul situation forced San Antonio's head coach Gregg Poppovich to put reserve forward Boris Diaw on James. The Miami strong forward, noting Diaw's strong paint defense of James in previous encounters, decided to take his seismic offensive game to the perimeter, from where he was hitting almost at will in the second half.
In the last minutes, James' ball movement was a major factor, in one important instance finding an open Chris Bosh with just over a minute remaining for a three-point dagger, resulting in a 95-93 Heat lead - from which point the Spurs never recovered. More evidence that having a LeBron James firing on all cylinders in the final minutes is a Miami game-changer.
The sweltering heat that visited the AT&T Center last Thursday night seemed a distant memory during Sunday night's game, though there were the occasional sightings of fans holding up giant thermometers showing temperatures had returned to more "comfortable" levels. However, the visiting Heat made their presence known in a big way and returned to a comfort level of their own.