In retrospect it seemed unwise to question LeBron James on his mental and physical toughness as the Miami small forward helped even the NBA Finals with the Heat’s 98-96 win over San Antonio in Game 2 last Sunday at the AT&T Center.
Only three days earlier in a 15-point loss to the Spurs, James left the floor with about four minutes left after suffering severe leg cramps when the air conditioning system broke down as the temperature hovered around 90 degrees on the court. It was so bad James had to be carried to the bench and later walked to the locker room.
Afterward there were tweets and stories about how James, widely regarded as the best basketball player on the planet, should have found a way to stay and help his team. Would Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant have begged out knowing their team needed them?
On Sunday there was no malfunction as James, the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and two-time champion, scored a game-best 35 points, including 14 points in the third quarter.
James devoted much of his time in the opening half taking the ball to the hoop, while in the second half opting for perimeter jumpers.
When asked by ABC sideline reporter Doris Burke why he chose this strategy, James said he wanted to do what was best for Miami.
“I just do it and trust the result,’’ said James, who grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds with three assists. “When we get stops and move the ball we’re a dangerous team.”
The Spurs led 26-19 after the first quarter, but Miami outscored San Antonio in the second quarter, 24-17.
San Antonio built a 78-77 cushion after three quarters, however, the Heat tallied 21 points in the fourth quarter while limiting the Spurs to 18.
For much of Game 1 on Thursday, San Antonio’s Danny Green couldn’t find the basket, but the shooting guard found his touch late in the fourth quarter when he nailed three from three-point range and finished with 13 points as the Spurs pulled out a 110-95 victory.
The Spurs ended the contest on a 31-9 spurt in a sweltering building that felt like an oven and remained that way for much of the game.
James was visibly distressed by the heat and despite that still managed to tally a game-high 25 points, pulling down six rebounds with three assists.
San Antonio power forward Tim Duncan, gunning for his fifth NBA title, made nine of 10 shots from the field and dropped in a team-best 21 points. He also collected a co-game-high 10 boards with three assists.
The Spurs committed 22 turnovers, including nine in the third quarter as the Heat led 78-74 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We stopped turning the ball over,’’ Duncan explained to Burke on why San Antonio rallied. “We started getting good shots and making them.”
The Spurs jumped in front 26-20 after the first quarter and forged a 54-49 advantage at the half as Duncan poured in 15 points, point guard Tony Parker scored 10 of his 19, while reserve shooting guard Manu Ginobili added 11 of his 16.
Miami came alive in the third quarter and outscored the host Spurs 29-20, but then faltered in the final quarter tallying 17 points compared to 36 for San Antonio.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.