Al Iannazzone | Newsday
MIAMI — LeBron James wasn’t playing up to his usual MVP level Sunday and got a needed assist and a little pep talk from one of his teammates.
And not one of the high-profile ones.
Mario Chalmers, usually the one being screamed at by a member of Miami’s Big Three during play, lifted James and the Heat in Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Spurs. It was early in the Heat’s 33-5 game-deciding run that tied the series before it moved to San Antonio, where Game 3 is tonight.
Chalmers scored and before the subsequent free throw to convert the three-point play, he walked over to James, who had been struggling, and basically told him it’s winning time.
“I thought we had them on the ropes and I told him let’s go for the kill,” Chalmers said.
James’ response, according to Chalmers, “I’m with you.”
He proved that and the Spurs didn’t know what hit them. Chalmers was a catalyst, scoring eight points with two assists in the run. But James’ impact was huge, as he made some emotional, demoralizing plays the Heat — and everyone else — expect from him.
James was 5-for-5 with 11 points, three assists and a rejection of Tiago Splitter’s dunk attempt. Before that run, James was 2-for-12 and the defending champs were dangerously close to falling behind 2-0.
“I was struggling a little bit,” James said. “I think more than anybody kept us aggressive, him getting into the paint, him getting those and-ones and making a couple of threes. It allowed me to sit back and wait for my time.”
The Spurs are kicking themselves for not building a sizable lead against an average James and below-average Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
San Antonio was up by only one when the Heat wave came. Wade and Bosh played a grand total of 2:01 combined in the surge and were scoreless. It was James, Chalmers and the bench doing the heavy lifting.
The Spurs easily could be in command — up 2-0 with the next three games in their building — if their Big Three played well in Game 2. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili totaled 27 points and were a combined 10-for-33.
“We have basically no shot winning a game against them if none of us played good,” said Ginobili, who is 6-for-17 with 18 points in the series. “We definitely got to step up and do better.”
That’s especially true for the Spurs because you expect James to break out eventually. It sounds funny since James is nearly averaging a triple-double: 17.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists. But he hasn’t scored 20 in either game.
James scored only 18 in Game 1 and the Spurs needed an off-balance, tough bank shot from Parker in the closing seconds to pull out the win.
The Spurs’ defense has been suffocating James. They’re forcing him to beat them with his jump shot or the pass. James has 35 points on 33 shots, and he’s hit his open teammates. They knocked them down more in Game 2 than the first game.
“I already know what we have here,” James said. “I will continue to find my shooters if they’re open. And I will continue to put pressure on the defense.
“When I’m not scoring or I’m not as efficient offensively where I feel like I’m missing shots, I just figure out ways that I can still help the team win — even if it’s not scoring as much.”
If James starts scoring more, the Heat could raise the championship trophy again.