Jun 10, 2013 3:47 AM EDT
MIAMI – This was the transcendent NBA Finals moment everyone will always remember out of LeBron James, a fatal four-part sequence encapsulating the magnitude with which he controls everything on the court. Just over 22 years ago, Michael Jordan had charted his memorable tale in The Finals with a twisting, up and under layup in Game 2 of the Chicago Bulls’ first title. It was an immortalizing, peerless play.
These were different circumstances, different periods in the careers, but James captured his own memory to live on with the Jordans and Magic Johnsons. Everywhere inside the American Airlines Arena, people wondered where James’ aggression had gone on Sunday night, a game spiraling out of his hands as if it were 2011 all over again, and then LeBron did something he knows he failed to do in that Finals series: Make a play of significance, of impact when it matters most.
And then he did it again and again and again in the midst of a 33-5 run that lifted the Miami Heat from down one point to a 103-84 blowout win in Game 2 over the San Antonio Spurs.
To begin four plays summoned out of his all around brilliance, James stuffed Tiago Splitter – listed three inches taller – at the rim in the best block of this postseason. Tony Parker made a beautiful pass to Splitter, and the big man brought the ball way behind his head only for James to size him up and pack it with assault. Three seconds went by with his teammates running up court, and James simply stood in place, mesmerized about a block certain to live on and on.
“We’ll be seeing that over and over and over and over,” Chris Bosh said late Sunday. “It was an awesome block.”
After the rejection of a center, James slowly made his way back to the other end and accelerated once he noticed Mario Chalmers needed help creating space. James ran to set Chalmers a screen, received a pass and examined the floor as he always does. This time, Ray Allen was open in the corner and the ball was delivered to him in an instant, giving the Heat an insurmountable lead, 89-66.
People wanted to judge James on his scoring across Game 1 of The Finals, and still, he showed the vastness of his talent on those consecutive plays. From Parker to Splitter, James guards them all and covers so much ground. No matter the coverage on defense, he’ll destroy you by pounding the ball to the rim or finding his shooters. After the block and assist, James stole a pass thrown by Parker to Danny Green, Mike Miller lunged a pass ahead, and LeBron sprinted for the ball and dunked it with two hands.
His stat line – 17 points, eight rebounds, seven assists – reflected a star getting trapped, yet garnering attention that gave Chalmers (19 points), Allen (13) and Mike Miller (nine) a combined eight three-pointers.
Two seasons ago, James wasn’t this trusting of his shooters, and Miller recalled needing to let him know: We’re here for you, LeBron. We want to help. They’re proving it now and Sunday night was reminiscent of James’ supporting cast draining three-pointers, flying all over the court in that Game 5 Finals clincher a season ago.
“He understands now that we’re here to help him, here to make his job easier,” Miller said. “That’s the big difference, the growth from the first season together to now.”
Beyond James’ greatness, the contribution of Chalmers was unmistakable and he bailed out the Heat on plenty of dead possessions, plays lacking cohesion, with uncanny floaters. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were ordinary offensively, but Miami needed every one of Bosh’s 10 rebounds, the most he’s had in a month. Eventually, the savvy dominance of LeBron blankets all the Heat’s issues, all underperformances.
The Spurs have made clear so far that they won’t let James put up those soaring outputs in points, and Kawhi Leonard’s had a textbook effort against him. James is bound to put forth a breakout scoring game at some point in this series, but until he does, the Heat understand they can’t stagnate and allow San Antonio to limit his passing outlets.
“We can’t stand around, because this is the kind of series that the [Spurs] won’t let LeBron get going,” Bosh said. “We have to play our part.”
For the Heat, the play that broke them out of a lack of flow on offense Sunday was the pick and roll between Chalmers and James on the left elbow, a pick-your-poison finisher engraved in every opposing team’s scouting report. They ran it over and over, and why not? If the Spurs couldn’t stop it, keep going to it.
Gregg Popovich will make adjustments into Game 3, beginning three straight on the Spurs’ home court. Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined to miss 23 of 33 from the field, a pedestrian night out of a team that knows its big three is just as critical as the Heat’s.
Nothing was stopping James, but there had been a scare that he suffered a right knee injury. Instead, it was just a floor burn. Even so, James was irritated with the band-aid continuing to fall off the knee and used a timeout within the first few minutes of the first quarter to ask the Heat’s training staff to replace it with a wrap. Problem solved.
Jordan had his enduring up and under in ’91 late in the rout of Game 2 after a Bulls’ opening loss to Magic's Lakers, and there was James with a sequence of four plays that succinctly encapsulated his acumen on both ends, in a way no one ever has. In a league that has players shying away from block attempts in fear of ridicule, James went straight up to stuff Splitter, ready to live with celebration or humiliation. “That’s LeBron, though. He’s different, more athletic,” Allen said.
This was a transcendent memory for James in these Finals, a remembrance forever. It will be repeated over and over and over and over, Bosh said. As clutch as that shot with cramps was a year ago, this block, to assist, to steal, to dunk moment was a four-part masterpiece. As everyone wondered where the aggressiveness had gone, LeBron James reminded again the essence of his game: His dominating influence from one basket to the other.
Jun 08, 2013 1:22 PM EDT
MIAMI – As a 19-year-old thrust into the Toronto Raptors, Chris Bosh would carry himself with such inspiring confidence and an elevated sense of self. He had grown up idolizing Tim Duncan and arrived into his early pro workouts imagining the feeling of draining jumpers on Kevin Garnett. While finishing practice workouts as a rookie under the guidance of an assistant coach, Bosh would snap: “That’s over KG.”
Bosh faced up again, and another shot would fall. “Over KG,” he repeated. In his mind, Bosh was simply readying himself for the competitive lust needed in the NBA, needed against an enforcer like Garnett. Only now, his Miami Heat teammates have been left desperately wanting resemblance of that dogged Bosh, someone who once looked for ways to manipulate opponents inside using his versatility.
Across Game 1 of these NBA Finals on Thursday night, Bosh missed 10 of 16 shots and all four three-point attempts. He’s been searching for rhythm on his jumper for well over a week now, hitting just 16 of 50 shots over the past five playoff games, and yet Bosh made clear Friday afternoon that he’ll keep hoisting outside shots as long as he’s open.
“I’m trying to evolve, but it’s not easy, it’s difficult,” Bosh said. “Most big men are in different areas than I am, in a different offensive system than I am.
That’s a reasoned answer, and still the Heat’s message – LeBron James’ message – to Bosh all along has been to use his agile frame, his footwork and graceful touch to establish himself in the paint. Over and over, Bosh has tired out this explanation of how much he’s sacrificed with the Heat, how he has lost shots next to James and Dwyane Wade.
Everyone understands: Ten shots a game out of a perennial All-Star, who is perhaps the Heat’s second best player now, isn’t sufficient. Yet, people who have scouted the Heat this season believe Bosh has received ample touches to provide a stabilizing presence, opportunities dependent on the aggressiveness with which he pursues scoring.
“If he accepts the challenge to want to put pressure in the paint, he’ll have it,” James said. “We run our offense through CB mostly. We need that paint attack from him.”
The Heat need it largely because these San Antonio Spurs aren’t the Indiana Pacers; because Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter aren’t as physically taxing as Roy Hibbert and David West. Whenever James had the ball in Game 1, Kawhi Leonard wasn’t alone in his defense. Gregg Popovich had “triple-teamed me in the post,” LeBron said, and the cutters never came. There was too much standing around, praying for James to save them from ceding control of the Finals.
As Duncan went for post-up seals and pulled down 14 rebounds, Bosh kept hoisting flat jumpers. And remember, he hasn’t grabbed more than eight boards since May 10.
Near the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, Bosh broached memories of having Duncan’s posters as a child, as if he were emitting pride in that fact. When someone told Duncan about Bosh’s admission that came before the Heat had even reached The Finals, it surprised him. It shocked Duncan that Bosh revealed such admiration leading up to a championship series, that he had been entrenched in Bosh’s mind all this time later.
“It’s really odd to hear that, especially playing against someone like that,” Duncan said on Friday.
As James and Wade led a group of perimeter players in shooting halfcourt heaves before practice Friday inside AmericanAirlines Arena, Bosh was on the other end, staying to himself throughout workouts with Miami big men. A self-starter who gathers his thoughts in quiet, Bosh started off slow in these shooting drills: Jumpers rattling out, bouncing off the back rim.
“God damn it, God damn it,” he mumbled after missing several in a row. Soon, though, Bosh moved to the top of the key and pure swishes followed.
For all the theories about Wade’s struggles at times, Bosh is the member of the Big 3 who could have the most to lose in a potential Finals collapse: His place as an untouchable on the roster. He had grown up idolizing Duncan, imagining he was hitting jumpers atop Garnett in early workouts in Toronto, and the Heat must believe now that somewhere within Chris Bosh still exists that self-action to match the burden.
Jun 07, 2013 5:34 AM EDT
MIAMI – Forget being overlooked and underestimated as one of the NBA’s finest point guards, Tony Parker has always had some irritation within him, an even greater annoyance hanging over him. For Parker, winning The Finals MVP in 2007 was supposed to bring validation to his game. Forget recognition as a top guard, those Finals instilled in Parker that he’s a top player in the league.
Parker hasn’t gone anywhere, his brilliant year imprinted all over the Spurs’ season. Everywhere around the Spurs, they all say he took over seamlessly as their best player, and yet one thing has made itself clear to Parker: Outside this franchise, his stature wavers, from one of the best to just another guard, and back. Outside this locker room, the disrespect for his place in the NBA is absolutely reckless.
Just two weeks ago, Parker had been dejected over receiving the outcome that he was left off the All-NBA first team. He never admitted it publicly and has always focused on the Spurs’ success, always worried about properly grasping Gregg Popovich’s schemes. Nevertheless, the snub drove him in the next two games: 26 and 37 points in Games 3 and 4 to close out the Western Conference Finals.
Parker let his teammates know he made the second team on that May 23 afternoon, and they all immediately saw how dispirited he looked. The best professional season of his life at an elite level, another impressive regular season for these Spurs, and Parker believed this was the year he had broken through to the masses.
“As a competitor, you want to be one of the best, and known as one of the best,” Danny Green told RealGM early Friday morning. “He felt a little disrespected, but he knows we’re behind him. That’s big for him: ‘As long as my teammates think I’m the best in the league, that’s all that matters.’”
No matter: Two weeks later, Parker delivered a clinic in Game 1 of the Finals, with 21 points and a flawless display of six assists to zero turnovers and repeated drives into the base of the Miami Heat defense. Popovich never did console the Spurs about what might happen when LeBron James defends Parker – just hand the ball to Parker and let him create his magic.
Still, there was James guarding Parker in the closing moments, using his overwhelming presence to push Parker off stride, off mark. Parker missed an 18-foot jumper with 37 seconds left and James responded with two free throws, bringing the Heat within two points. Out of the Spurs’ timeout, Parker got Chris Bosh to switch onto him, but James swiftly made his defensive stand.
Parker bounced off James’ weight and lost balance, a trim guard colliding against the force of a tight end. LeBron appeared to have all his angles closed, but suddenly Parker found a sliver of room to curl back to his right. Out of nowhere, Parker raised up, double pumped and shot as James swung his left arm by him and banked in a jumper to seal the Spurs’ 92-88 win.
Out of nowhere, it was the ’07 Finals all over again for Parker and James – Parker playing the role of the best on the court and the Spurs celebrating on LeBron’s homecourt.
“Tony did everything wrong and did everything right in the same possession: He stumbled two or three times, he fell over … and barely got it off,” James said. “That was the longest 24 seconds that I’ve been a part of.”
As Dwyane Wade marveled, “Tony is the engine behind everything.”
Even on a night the Heat won the rebounding battle, the Spurs had just four turnovers and had Green knocking down four deflating three-pointers, Duncan going for 20 points and 14 rebounds. As much as it is about containing James and Wade, San Antonio knows it has to be sharp in handling the ball, understanding turnovers will lead to transition breakouts.
“Our control has a lot to do with experience,” Green said. “We have a lot of veterans, guys who don’t panic.”
So often, teams can fall apart in games because of uneasy composure from the coach and mostly the stars. Whenever the Heat would near a double-digit lead, San Antonio kept coming, and Popovich used wise timeouts throughout. And on Parker’s miraculous game-clincher, there Popovich stood the entire play: His arms folded, standing still in front of the scorer’s table.
Eventually, Parker’s teammates clutched him in celebration. “Tony is a confident guy,” Green told RealGM in the corner of the locker room. “He doesn’t need people telling him he’s great – he knows he’s great.”
All these years later, three championships later, the proper respect still hasn’t been paid to Parker. When it was the ’07 Finals all over again on Thursday night, when his teammates came to embrace him, Parker left up one finger – signaling this had been just one win.
Three more wins to go, Tony Parker told them. For Parker, three more to go before he’ll cement a legacy that will be impossible to underestimate anymore.
Jun 02, 2013
Lance Stephenson knows what’s awaiting them with the way LeBron has dominated in Miami, and still Frank Vogel will develop their confidence between now and Game 7. Here were Roy Hibbert and Paul George in agreement over an ending of this series that would send these franchises in different directions.
May 29, 2013
LeBron James’ ease was telling on his way out of fouling out of Game 4. He was calm in his responses, tranquil over a game that had both teams irate at times about calls. James was snatched an opportunity to close out a potential 3-1 series lead, basketball’s premiere closer fouling out of a tight game.
May 27, 2013
At 32, Udonis Haslem understands this postseason – this Eastern Conference finals series, in particular – has tested his body. Roy Hibbert and David West will continue trying to impose their physicality on the Heat, a tiring challenge Haslem has embraced.
May 15, 2013
Shooting hasn’t always been pretty for Paul George in these playoffs, but he’s already rivaling LeBron James as one of the game’s most prolific, complete players. On those terrible shooting nights, George is all over the place – defending the opponent’s best, rebounding and disrupting passes. On offense, he doesn’t need solacing.
May 12, 2013
J.R. Smith had gotten a virus on Friday night and sat for dinner here, wondering how worse it would get, wondering if he’d play. Sure enough, there was no flu game out of Smith on Saturday – just shots going awry, shots falling short, and a teetering, welcomed walk out of the Fieldhouse and into recovery time to find any resemblance of the Sixth Man.
Apr 17, 2013
George Karl has immense trust in Ty Lawson, a relationship that has constantly tightened. They know it had to be this way once Chauncey Billups left in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Ultimately, Karl understood the Nuggets’ future rested on giving Lawson freedom, and in turn rested on his ability to blossom with it.
Mar 29, 2013
The Lakers have tried to force-feed Pau Gasol at times since his return last week from a torn plantar fascia, but it has been superficial faith. Gasol has admitted his benching out of Mike D’Antoni earlier in the season affected him, and why should anyone – much less the Lakers – be surprised?
Mar 24, 2013
As much as Mickael Pietrus acknowledges the transition phase that the Raptors are undergoing, he still hopes that the team trusts his ability to produce on the court when needed. In his mind, a strong push to close out the season will help players enter the offseason with a more positive outlook.
Mar 19, 2013
As Andrew Bynum is lost for the season with surgery on both knees, Nikola Vucevic continues piling up double-doubles, tied for fifth-most in the league. Maybe the 76ers indeed understood Vucevic’s capabilities, and yet leaving has released some tension, allowing him to play and learn through his mistakes, develop and focus on his game.
Mar 16, 2013
The Heat held extensive searches as far back as last offseason to add an athletic frontcourt player, bringing in big man after big man for workouts. No one’s upside with the team intrigued Miami management as much as Chris Andersen.
Feb 24, 2013
The Hawks had sought trade offers for Josh Smith, and a deal seemed inevitable. Their decision to keep Smith in the end resonated with him, but both sides know the flexibility that awaits now.
Feb 24, 2013
For his part, Derrick Rose was an advocate of Kyle Korver over the past two seasons, both guards benefiting from the facets of their repertories that capitalizes each other best – dribble penetration and outside shooting. As much as anyone, Rose would have loved for Korver to stay with the Bulls.
Dec 19, 2012
For all his immense talent, the forming of Paul George’s mindset was outlined in high school and college, back when the tireless work wasn’t matched with accolades and attention.
Dec 16, 2012
In a lot of ways, the Clippers haven’t even revealed their true identity. They will always go as far as Chris Paul can lead them, but the depth of their roster has yet to take form.
Dec 02, 2012
It’s always going to be a make-or-miss league, Doc Rivers repeated late Saturday, and the void left in these Celtics by losing the greatest shooter of his era in Ray Allen is becoming more and more revealing.
Nov 18, 2012
Larry Sanders is no longer hastily scanning the stat sheet for his numbers. Now, he has fully embraced the role of bringing energy off the bench and changing the complexion of games with his feistiness, blocks and versatile defense.
Oct 02, 2012
As much as Derrick Rose talks about wanting to stay out of the front office’s personnel moves, he reinforced a clear message on Monday afternoon: Bring me players who are immensely passionate to join the Bulls, not through trade but through desire, and we’ll deal with whatever outcome.
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