Now that the Miami Heat have knotted things up against the San Antonio Spurs at one apiece, the 2014 NBA Finals are anyone's series heading into Game 3.
Following a memorable, AC-lacking Game 1, the stars were the story as Miami tied it up.
LeBron James didn't just play cramp-free basketball, but he took matters into his own hands to dominate the Spurs, pouring in 35 points. Chris Bosh hit a huge three down the stretch, roaring with pride as the Heat pulled away. Tony Parker led San Antonio with 21 and weathered an elbow to the gut, while Tim Duncan slammed back second chances like a much younger man.
These guys always produce a given game's most thrilling highlights. When the best players take over, LeBron and the Heat grab the edge and pull away.
Another such performance in Game 3 would be very compelling, but the Spurs and their deep bench overwhelming Miami would be just as beautiful to watch.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel|
|Tuesday, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Thursday, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tuesday, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Friday, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Source: NBA.com *If necessary|
Game 3 Odds (via Odds Shark): San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat (-3.5)
Looking at the stat lines of big names gives you some idea of how Game 2 went, but the supporting casts are the clear X-factor in this NBA Finals; their performances are indicative of how the series will proceed from here, and why the odds favor Miami in Game 3.
As San Antonio now goes on the road, the role players especially have to make plays like they did in Game 1 for the Spurs to keep winning.
Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter combined for 36 points in Game 1; that number dropped to 20 in the Heat victory. To make matters worse, Leonard struggled even more with foul trouble in Game 2, as San Antonio's best LeBron stopper fouled out and watched from the sideline as the Heat pulled away.
The Spurs still have the best second-unit player in Manu Ginobili and a nifty point forward in Boris Diaw, but their impact diminishes if Miami's supporters show up.
Miami needed every one of Rashard Lewis' 14 Game-2 points, knocking down three shots from beyond the arc and serving as a true floor-stretching threat from the power forward position. The Heat haven't had reliable production this season from that spot, which creates room for James and Dwyane Wade to get looks inside.
When guys like Lewis and Ray Allen can use their shooting to turn this into a star-centric matchup, the Heat become so much more dangerous. Even as LeBron took matters more into his own hands in Game 2, the presence of sharpshooters on the outside prevents the Spurs D from fully collapsing on him.
Depth is San Antonio's edge, so if Miami bridges the gap in that category, the series becomes an uphill battle.
As the series moves to Miami, where the Heat have yet to lose this postseason, the Spurs need every advantage they can get. Counterintuitively, that could mean working even more through their biggest star.
The Heat can limit Parker by shifting James onto him, but they really have no good answer for Duncan. Fronting him won't solve everything—not with Duncan so adept at positioning himself, and Parker and Ginobili so talented at throwing entry passes. Once Duncan gets the ball on the block with only one man between him and the basket, he just has his way with the Heat defense.
Those inside feeds, along with Diaw's and Splitter's paint dishing, will always make San Antonio dangerous, but it's going to take a second game for the Spurs to solve both Miami's offense and its home-court advantage.
That's why Vegas gives the Heat the slight edge, one they fought hard to earn as they pulled the NBA Finals even again.