SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LeBron James knew he had to do more than just get his body right between Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals.
His mind needed a little work as well.
So that’s why, without anyone else with him — no security, no friends, nobody, and that almost never happens — James quietly showed up at a theater a couple miles from where the Miami Heat were staying for a 5:40 p.m. showing Saturday of “Maleficent.” And it’s also why he and his regular massage therapist joined two strangers for a yoga class at 8 a.m. Sunday, where he focused on his breathing.
“I needed to get everything right,” James said.
After a virtuoso, cramp-free performance, it looks like he succeeded.
The NBA Finals are headed back to Miami knotted at a game apiece, and James’ weekend of work away from the court paid big dividends on the floor to make that happen. He scored 33 of his 35 points in the final three quarters, made a play call to set up Chris Bosh’s 3-pointer that provided the 17th and final lead change of the night with 1:18 left, and the Heat topped the San Antonio Spurs 98-96 in Game 2 on Sunday night.
“I just try to make plays out there on the floor,” said James, who had to leave Game 1 in the final minutes because of cramps. “And like I continue to say, put myself and my teammates in a position to succeed and live with the results after that.”
Just like last year’s finals, the Spurs won Game 1 and the Heat took Game 2.
That should be no surprise. Miami is 13-0 since June 2012 in playoff games following a loss.
“We’ll figure it out,” San Antonio’s Tim Duncan said. “We have things to talk about and film to look at and we’ll be ready for the next one.”
The next one is Tuesday night.
Bosh scored 18 points for Miami, which got 14 apiece from Dwyane Wade and Rashard Lewis. There were a lot of things on the stat sheet that would suggest it was a long night for the Heat — like having their bench outscored 37-12, finishing with only 16 assists, trailing by 11 points in the early going and giving up 12 3-pointers.
Having James cures a whole lot of ills. When the Spurs seemed on the brink of building a decent lead in the third quarter, he needed about a minute to snuff it out with a personal 8-0 run. And in the fourth, he was the primary ballhandler, driving, pulling up or passing based on what the defense showed him. His signature play was finding Bosh for a corner 3-pointer that put Miami up for good.
“You can double (James) if you want,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose team had won nine straight playoff games at home, the last eight all by at least 15 points. “He’s a pretty good player. I’m going to guess he’s going to find the open man.”
Tony Parker scored 21 points for the Spurs, who got 19 from Manu Ginobili and an 18-point, 15-rebound night from Duncan, who tied Magic Johnson for the NBA record with his 157th career playoff double-double. But the Spurs shot just 40 percent in the last three quarters, and saw Parker and Duncan miss four free throws over a nine-second span of the final quarter.
Miami guard Mario Chalmers was driving with 6:43 left when he elbowed Parker in the midsection, getting called for a Flagrant-1 foul. But Parker missed both free throws. On the Spurs’ possession that immediately followed, Duncan missed two more.
“It definitely affected me,” Parker said of the pain from the Chalmers elbow, which left him writhing on the court for a few moments. “But I’m a little bit frustrated. Should have made them.”
One play never wins or loses a game by itself, but that stretch sure loomed large.
“It was a toughie,” Ginobili said.
It wound up getting tougher a few seconds later.
James made a 3-pointer from the left wing, said a few words to those in the courtside seats, and the Heat had an 88-87 lead. Back and forth the teams went, but in the end, the Heat simply found a way.
“We had to really fight and make plays,” Wade said. “They missed four free throws that were key for us as well. But that’s part of the game. I’m sure we missed some things that we should have made. We got stops and that’s how we won.”
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