With LeBron James stifled, teammates lift Heat in Game 2

MIAMI — Before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the NBA handed out the inaugural Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award to Chauncey Billups.

After the game, LeBron James seemingly wanted to provide awards to his teammates.

Through three quarters Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Miami Heat star was shooting a disastrous 3 of 13 against a San Antonio team determined to stop him. But that didn’t matter to his teammates, who provided Miami with a 10-point lead.

James finally got his offensive game going in the fourth quarter. And the Heat went on to a 103-84 rout, tying the series at 1-1.

“When I was struggling offensively, my teammates continued to keep it in range,’’ said James, who shot 4 of 4 in the fourth quarter for nine points to finish with 17. “And we even had a lead. … So I think Rio more than anybody kept us aggressive, him getting into the paint, him getting those and-ones and making a couple of 3s. It allowed me to sit back and wait for my time.’’

Rio is point guard Mario Chalmers. He usually gets lost in the shuffle when compared to his much more famous Heat teammates.

But when the Finals come around, Chalmers often acts like a star. He had 19 points Sunday, his third Finals game out of the last eight with 18 or more.

“He’s got guts. He’s had that all the way (back) in college,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about Chalmers, who drilled a dramatic 3-pointer in the 2008 NCAA title game to force overtime before his Kansas Jayhawks eventually beat Memphis. “He’s got incredible confidence in his game.’’

Chalmers has an 8.4 career scoring average. But it’s 11.5 in 13 career Finals games, including eight in which he’s scored in double figures.

“You always heard how hard it is to get to the Finals,’’ Chalmers said. “Once you get there, you want to leave it out on the court and never have any look backs.’’

Chalmers did just that Sunday. He shot 6 of 12, including 2 of 4 on 3-pointers. He played impressive defense on Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who had riddled Miami for 21 points in Game 1 with no turnovers. This time, Parker had five miscues and shot just 5 of 14 for 13 points.

Chalmers wasn’t the only member of the supporting cast to come to LeBron’s rescue. Guard Ray Allen (13), center Chris Bosh (12) and guard Dwyane Wade (10) also scored in double figures.

“We can’t just sit around and watch (James) do his thing,’’ said Bosh, who looked more content with a mid-range game and didn’t shoot a single 3-pointer after going 0 of 4 in Game 1. “We had to do our part. … This is the kind of series where I don’t think they’re really going to let him get going. He’s seeing a lot of bodies. He’s making the proper plays. He’s kicking it out to wide-open shooters.’’

The Heat were 10 of 19 from 3-point range. Allen was 3 of 5 and Miller, who has replaced Shane Battier in the rotation, was 3 of 3 for nine points.

All of this helping of James led to the Heat closing the third quarter with a 14-3 run for a 75-65 lead. Then, with James getting going, they went on a 9-0 spurt to start the fourth quarter and it ended up being a 23-3 explosion for an 84-65 lead.

“You get into a situation and things are getting away from you,’’ Spurs forward Tim Duncan said of the decisive run. “The ball doesn’t bounce your way, shots don’t go in.’’

Duncan shot 3 of 13 for nine points and said he “played awfully.’’ He vowed to get back in the gym Monday in preparation for Tuesday’s Game 3, the first of three straight in San Antonio.

Summing up what a disaster the latter part of the game was for the Spurs, center Tiago Splitter went in for a dunk in the fourth quarter with his team trailing 86-67. James went up high for the block and the thud probably was heard as far away as Splitter’s native Brazil.

Bosh said it’s a play that’s going to be shown on the highlights “over and over and over and over and over.’’ If you’re scoring at home, that was five overs.

“I told myself, you’ll end up on SportsCenter where you’re going to get dunked on or you’re going to get a block,’’ James said. “Luckily, I was on the good side of the Top Ten and (not) the Not So Top Ten.’’

James’ lowlights were reserved for earlier in the game. He shot 2 of 7 in the first half and at one point in the fourth quarter was 2 of 13.

At that point, James was shooting 9 of 29 in the series against the Spurs for 31.0 percent. That was an even lower percentage than the 35.6 when San Antonio handcuffed him in a 2007 Finals sweep of his Cavaliers.

But James was trying to do other things to get out of his malaise. Through three quarters, he did have five of his eight rebounds and five of his seven assists.

“That doesn’t really make any sense that he wasn’t being aggressive,’’ said Spoelstra, scoffing at the notion some might have had about James in the first three quarters. “You have to give credit to the competition. They’re scheming and ready and taking our normal strengths away from us. Even though a lot of people are unwarrantedly criticizing him for not being aggressive, he’s being aggressive. He’s creating opportunities.’’

Regardless, there would have been tremendous criticism if the Heat had lost on a night in which James scored 10 points less than his regular-season average. But James’ teammates made sure that didn’t happen. 

James seemed ready to hand out awards Sunday for their performance. Then again, he probably figures the Larry O’Brien Trophy would be good enough if the Heat can win another championship.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson.