LeBron James had yet another superhuman performance, but the Miami Heat trumped the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the NBA Finals with the help of three surprising trends, two of which need to be fixed by Gregg Popovich and Co. before Miami runs away with another title.
Spurs Miss Free Throws down the Stretch
The Spurs let the game slip away in the most un-Spurs way possible: missed free throws.
In a crucial nine-second stretch in the fourth quarter, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan went 0-of-4 from the free-throw line. As a team, the Spurs went 12-of-20 from the free-throw line, per ESPN. The easiest points to make are also the worst to miss. The Spurs lost by two points, and Parker and Duncan’s miscues deserve to take some of the blame.
Mario Chalmers' flagrant foul before Parker's free throws might have affected him, but he still believes he should have made them, according to Michael Lee of The Washington Post.
"It definitely affected me, but I’m a little bit frustrated. Should’ve made them,” Parker said after the game.
With a trip to Miami looming, the Spurs need to find a solution to their free-throw troubles. Miami fans take a lot of heat, yet it’s easier to make free throws in front of a supportive home crowd than it is in front of opposing fans.
Chris Bosh: The Heat’s New Closer
With less than a minute-and-a-half to go, Chris Bosh sunk the game’s biggest shot on an assist by James. To put the game further out of reach, Bosh set up Wade for an easy layup in the closing seconds.
As strange as it sounds, Bosh has become a late-game assassin.
ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton called Bosh’s three-pointer the biggest play of the NBA Finals so far: "If Bosh misses, San Antonio is a heavy favorite to win. As it was, the shot forced them to score and get stops over the last minute and a half of the game, and the Spurs could accomplish neither task."
Bosh has usurped Dwyane Wade as the Heat’s second option in these finals and one of James’ favorite weapons to play with.
In post-game, Chris Bosh calls LeBron the most unselfish player he has ever played with — can pass on a good shot for a great shot.— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) June 9, 2014
If Bosh can continue to be a reliable shooter from three-point range, then it wouldn’t be surprising for him to receive many more James passes in the closing minutes—perhaps more so than any other Heat player.
Kawhi Leonard Makes Little Impact
Kawhi Leonard was invisible for most of Sunday night. He managed to make two three-pointers, but his early foul trouble forced the Spurs to guard James with Boris Diaw.
Leonard is by far San Antonio’s best option to defend James, as he has the rare size-length-athleticism combo that can give James trouble.
For the Spurs to win this series, Kawhi Leonard must play better. He was on point in Game 1, but scored just 9 points Sunday night.— Stephen M. Smith (@ESPN_Future) June 9, 2014
The 22-year-old rising star is faltering on the NBA’s biggest stage. If Leonard can’t stay on the court, James could easily have another 35-point night. And that puts San Antonio at a major disadvantage.
If there is any team that can fix its glaring errors, it’s the Spurs. The free throws shouldn’t be a major issue going forward, as Parker and Duncan have plenty of experience in hostile playoff environments. They will address the problem and soldier on, as they always do.
However, the emergence of Bosh and the shrinking of Leonard could be issues that continue to plague San Antonio. Bosh puts Duncan and Tiago Splitter in unfamiliar territory on the perimeter, and his improved three-point touch should make James’ already-brilliant assist numbers rise even more. Leonard hasn’t been in as many intense playoff atmospheres as the Spurs’ Big Three have, and an energized Heat team in Miami could hurt his psyche for good.