NBA Finals: Turning Point, LeBron Returns Tiago Splitter To Sender (w/ VIDEO)
LeBron with the LeBlock.
I may or may not have disclosed this before in this space, and if I have, my apologies, but I am rooting for LeBron in these NBA Finals.
I'm over the animosity of Decision 2010 (Really, why did I get so worked up over Cleveland getting shat upon anyway?), I root for greatness, I root for dominance, I root for a spirited "Michael vs LeBron" talk radio debate in 2018.
I root for LeBron.
Now, it's not easy, what with him sharing the floor with the dirtiest player in the NBA and with the most overrated softie in the NBA. It's a little like the Lannisters in Game of Thrones, where I'm rooting for and like Tyrion the Imp, but simultaneously rooting for him means rooting for his deplorable, incestuous siblings Cersei and Jaime.
(At least it does at around the second episode of Season 2 mark, maybe that changes. That's where I am right now on Game of Thrones, I started on Friday and I'm trying to catch up to all of you! And oh by the way, how about my first Game of Thrones reference!)
So after a Game 1 where LeBron had perhaps the emptiest triple-double of his career (18 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists) in a performance that left everyone asking once again "Is LeBron too unselfish? Is he too passive at the end of close games sometimes?", and after a first half where the Heat held a five point lead despite LeBron's lackluster 2 for 6 performance, it was put up or shut up time.
LeBron was either going to do to the Spurs what he had done to every team in the playoffs since he donned a Miami uniform (except for Dallas in the NBA Finals two years ago), dominate at both ends of the floor, or we were going to spend the next two days analyzing and reanalyzing all of the schemes that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had implemented to make LeBron a mere mortal -- forcing him to shoot jump shots, forcing him (baiting him?) into giving up the basketball, and Kahwi Leonard...dear God, Kahwi Leonard!
Predictably, we saw the former.
I say "predictably" not out of blind LeBron worship, I say "predictably" because coming into Sunday night, since January (as my man R.J. Bell points out) the Heat were 10-0 after losses. Not just 10-0 winning games, but 10-0 against the spread. Not just that, but R.J. Bell would also tell you that in those ten wins they covered the spread by an average of 15 points.
So when the Heat lose, they don't just head back to the drawing board and regroup. They regroup, refocus, come out and steamroll their opponents into (in this case) black and silver grease spots.
And that's exactly what they did.
Not only did the Spurs allow the Heat to regain some momentum and prevent a cataclysmic 2-0 deficit heading on the road for three straight, but they allowed LeBron to rediscover himself. With the game virtually decided, and the Heat up 19 and having systematically dismantled the Spurs on a night where Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were painfully mortal and Manu Ginobili looked like he drank a case of beer before the game (Seriously, what was up with Manu? He could barely stand up.), the following sequence occurred and LeBron announced he was back:
Soul crushing block on Tiago Splitter, screen and roll dish to a wide open Ray Allen for three, steal and chin up super dunk at other end.
Ball game, welcome back, LeBron. (Incidentally, if you're wondering whether or not the LeBron block on Splitter has been immortalized by Jim Ross' 1998 Hell In A Cell call, do you even really need to ask?)
In the grand scheme of things, from purely a mathematical standpoint, the Spurs accomplished their goal on this business trip -- they seized home court advantage. Granted, winning three in a row at home is never easy, and it will be a minor miracle for the Spurs to accomplish that against a team led by James. (Vegas has the Spurs winning in five games as a +400 proposition, which might be the single worst value I've seen on a board this whole postseason. The Heat will win at least one game.)
But in the process of accomplishing their goal, they allowed LeBron to re-engage. These games aren't played on xBox, there is an ebb and a flow and a carryover emotionally. LeBron was flummoxed by many of these same Spurs in 2007, and they were up to their old tricks again in Game 1 and the first half of Game 2.
At halftime Sunday, down 5, I'm guessing the Spurs thought to themselves "Keep it close in the second half, let some more of that doubt creep in for LeBron, try and steal one." The opposite happened. Blowout party, the old LeBron was back, and perhaps appropriately for the most versatile player on the planet, it started at the defensive end of the floor.
Tuesday we'll find out if Sunday night was a spark or just a trigger for Pop's next chess move. If you have no dog in this fight, root for both.
These Spurs will not go quietly. It's three straight home games and perhaps the last chance for this group to reach the mountaintop. (If Manu's punch drunk dribbling exhibition was any indication, definitely the last chance for this group to reach the mountaintop.)
On the flip side, the Heat are now 14-0 in series in which they fell behind after they've fallen behind (follow that?), going back to the Indiana series in 2012 (credit to my colleague at 610, Nick Wright, for pointing that one out to me). The Heat haven't lost a game in a series after being behind in that series since the 2011 NBA Finals.
It's 1-1 now. It's on. Much like LeBron James rising up to block a seven footer attempting to throw down on him, something's got to give.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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