After a drive and finger roll by to-that-point-star-of-Game-2 Danny Green, the San Antonio Spurs led the Miami Heat 62-61 with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter, seeming to have a pretty strong chance of weathering a bad offensive performance from longtime stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and another subpar shooting game from rising sophomore Kawhi Leonard. The Heat looked awkward at times, with MVP LeBron James unable to get on track and Erik Spoelstra's squad seeming unable to get and maintain a lead despite San Antonio's offensive struggles.
And then, it all broke loose.
You can define it however you'd like — a 42-22 run over the next 15:50, a 30-5 run until Gregg Popovich pulled his starters with 7:43 remaining, a 35-9 run until Spoelstra pulled his with 4:58 left — but what happened was basically biblical. The floodgates opened, the Heat roared forth, the Spurs were washed away and the tide carried both teams back to San Antonio with the 2013 NBA Finals tied at one game apiece.
But how did it happen? Let's look at a few key elements in the epic run that decided Game 2:
• LeBron, unleashed. Well, duh.
Before the 3:50 mark of the third: six points on 2 for 12 shooting, four rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks in 29 minutes, 41 seconds. Over the next 10 minutes and 50 seconds: 11 points, 5 for 5 shooting, four rebounds, three assists (all for 3-pointers), one steal and one pretty cool block you might have heard about.
That block kickstarted a sensational, whirlwind 35-second period that BDL Editor Kelly Dwyer called "perhaps the finest quick-hit sequence of playoff basketball we’ve seen since Michael Jordan’s era," which you should really watch one more time:
So, yeah — pretty good jaunt from the ol' MVP there to increase the Heat lead to 24 and prompt Pop to pull his starters with nearly eight minutes remaining in the game.
But how did he (and Miami's offense) get going after two-plus mostly awkward and sluggish offensive quarters?
• The Chalmers-James pick-and-roll.
The Heat have used James as a screener in the pick-and-roll at times in the past, with varying effectiveness. It paid off big in the second half of Miami's Game 5 win over the Indiana Pacers, but as Jay Ramos of Heat blog Hot Hot Hoops notes, James' shooting numbers as the roll man don't necessary scream for increased use of the action, despite the fact that involving James in ball screens forces defenses to have to make tough decisions — chief among them, do you let James' man sag off to stop the ball and give the screened defender time to recover, thus leaving James alone momentarily, or do you stick on LeBron no matter how effective his screen is, giving the ball-handler a head start to the rim?
After a couple of cursory tries earlier in the game, the Heat rediscovered the Chalmers-James action kind of accidentally with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third. A missed Chalmers 3 that Bosh rebounded lead to something of a jumbled second possession, so James trotted over to set a screen for Chalmers at the left elbow:
The play didn't result in a basket, but the opening the action created — the combination of Chalmers' hesitation dribble to freeze Gary Neal and James' brief switch of directions on the pick to put Neal another half-step behind — gave Chalmers an open lane to the basket for a layup try that Miami turned into an offensive rebound and a foul drawn. There was something there.
They came back to it on the ensuing possession, this time on the right elbow, and this time a soft contest by Green allowed Chalmers to get to the rack for an and-one:
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. About a minute later, Miami gave it another shot, stationing James — now guarded by Leonard, who'd subbed in for Green — at the left elbow. Leonard responds to Chalmers coming to the middle of the floor by taking a step backward, sinking into the paint to prevent penetration, as we've seen San Antonio bigs like Duncan and Tiago Splitter do countless times.
This time, though, instead of popping back toward the perimeter, LeBron rolls, and with Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen all occupying space and defenders on the strong side, look how clean a path he has to the rim:
Not surprisingly, things work out well for Miami here:
And what's neat about the action is that if the Spurs don't know how they want to defend it (and they sure didn't seem to), it can create all sorts of wrinkles so long as you've got good spacing and reliable shooters. Enter Allen and Miller, who (as I wrote Sunday) had played really well with James in Game 1, and continued that theme in Game 2, creating 40 points in just 13 minutes of shared floor time and outscoring the Spurs by a killer 21 points in that span.
After a Parker floater, Miami comes down the floor and goes right back to work with James at the left elbow. This time, though, Allen cuts from the right wing over to the left corner, leaving Miller and Birdman on the weak side as Chalmers and James initiate the pick-and-roll. Again, Leonard sinks; as he and Parker converge on Chalmers, the point guard swings it to James, who'd popped out to the foul line and is now facing the basket. Unwilling to give James a clear run to the rim, Neal rotates early to pick up LeBron ...
... but doesn't actually pick him up, choosing instead to reach out and swipe ...
... which LeBron powers through, then elevates and finds Neal's man, Miller, all alone at the arc with his hand raised and (probably) his mouth watering.
OK, so now that the Heat have made Neal think twice about leaving Miller, and LeBron's shown Leonard he can make San Antonio pay on the roll, and Manu Ginobili knows he can't leave Allen alone in the left corner (where, again, he's about as lethal a shooter as the game's ever seen), and Duncan's got to be mindful of Birdman lurking along the baseline on the weak side, Chalmers can ostensibly get a one-on-one against Parker and a running start into the lane on the following possession, Miami's final trip of the quarter.
And as Chalmers showed time and again on Sunday, while he might not be quite as good as he thinks he is, he can definitely make plays:
On Miami's last seven possessions of the third quarter, they went to the Chalmers-James pick-and-roll five times. They scored 11 points on those trips, helping turn a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead in less than four minutes. Over the full 10:50 stretch before their night was done, Chalmers and James combined to score 19 of Miami's 35 points and assist on 14 more, totally unlocking the Spurs' defense and putting the Heat on the path to steamrolling San Antonio.
• Increased defensive pressure buckled the Spurs' offense.
The Heat were excellent on the other end of the floor, too, and San Antonio gave them plenty of help. After a brilliant four-turnover performance in Game 1, the Spurs turned the ball over six times during this stretch alone, leading to 10 Miami points. Three of the six turnovers came in the final three minutes of the third quarter, all directly attributable to Ginobili — a bad pass through Neal's hands, a lost handle on a dribble-drive, a cut away from a Duncan give-and-go in the left corner — and all preventing San Antonio from providing an answer to stem the tide of the mounting Miami run.
You could also give Manu at least partial credit for the Spurs' fourth-quarter-opening TO, since Neal had to jump to corral another Ginobili high-and-wide pass, which gave Miller time to recover, close out and press Neal (with some help from Andersen) into a baseline trap that led him to cough the ball up:
Why did Manu sail it, though? At least some credit goes to the Heat's aggressive but smart pick-and-roll defense, which gave the Spurs fits all night.
After a side pick-and-roll with Splitter on the right wing, Ginobili dribbles left toward the middle of the floor, but Andersen has read the play and come out aggressively to trap the ball, knowing he has help behind him with Miller, James and Chalmers all having one foot in the paint and ready to swarm on a pass to hit Splitter as the roll man:
After being hemmed in there, Manu raises up and fires the fastball to the corner, where Miller's hard closeout takes away the 3 and the baseline drive, and Andersen's late help limits Neal's passing lane even further, forcing him to throw a contested pass to the paint that's deflected by James and stolen by Birdman, leading to a bad foul by Leonard.
The Heat were also sharp and aggressive with their back-line rotations when San Antonio was able to beat the trap by passing over the top and hitting the roll man, as when Green fed Splitter on the roll here in the fourth quarter, only for Tiago to turn and find himself face to face with Miller and Chalmers swarming him, leading to a Spurs turnover:
It wasn't just aggressive traps that did the Spurs in, though — the Heat frequently went under ball screens for Parker, deciding that they'd rather let him beat them with midrange jumpers than by getting into the paint and wreaking havoc.
Parker's proven himself capable of doing that — he went a respectable 4 for 9 outside the paint in Game 1, shot 45.3 percent outside the lane during the regular season and 44.7 percent beyond the paint in the playoffs headed into Sunday — but like many of his teammates, he did not have the goods in Game 2, missing four of his five tries beyond the foul line. There, too, he had some help from solid contests by Heat defenders like Andersen:
With both the soft and hard pick-and-roll coverages working and the Spurs' normally precise passing game totally out-of-whack, all the elements were there for Miami to build up the beatdown, especially because ...
• The Heat were +15 from beyond the arc during this stretch.
San Antonio managed to stay in Game 2 through two-plus quarters despite turnovers, strong play from Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and poor interior shooting by the likes of Duncan and Leonard because they were making 3-pointers — the Spurs were 9 for 13 from deep as of the 3:50 mark of the third. They missed their next five long balls, though, and 10 of their next 13 shots outside the restricted area, with fewer made field goals (four) than turnovers (six) during the fateful stretch.
On the other side of the coin, Miami — thanks in part to much cleaner looks generated in transition, by the Chalmers-James pick-and-roll or, as we see below, by James operating in the post — scorched the nets to the tune of 5 for 7 from deep:
Players, coaches and analysts always tell us that the NBA is a make-or-miss league; well, during the most important juncture of the game, the Spurs couldn't make and the Heat couldn't miss. San Antonio had better hope some home-cooking gets their shooters feeling comfortable and that the road trip does a number on Miami's rhythm, because this kind of shotmaking (on both ends) can't continue if the Spurs hope to get back on top come Game 3.