LeBron James’ body held up just fine. So did his playmaking in the final minutes.
He continually scored during a sublime third quarter, then let his teammates make the baskets that pushed the Miami Heat past the San Antonio Spurs, 98-96, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday at the AT&T Center.
The series is tied at one game apiece, in part because James found Chris Bosh in the corner for a go-ahead three-pointer with 1 minute 18 seconds left and Bosh provided some insurance with a pass to Dwyane Wade for a layup.
And also because Miami held the Spurs scoreless for nearly all of the final 2 1/2 minutes, until a meaningless three-pointer at the final horn.
James finished with 35 points and 10 rebounds to go with zero cramps after having to prematurely leave the series opener because of severe discomfort. The temperature was almost chilly inside the arena three days after an air-conditioning malfunction turned the place into a giant steam room.
“He’s the most unselfish player I’ve ever played with,” Bosh said of James. “Even if he is hot, he’ll still hit you if you’re wide open.”
Bosh had 18 points and Wade and Rashard Lewis 14 apiece for the Heat, which made the most of four missed free throws in succession by the Spurs midway through the fourth quarter.
The series now heads to Miami for two games starting with Game 3 on Tuesday.
The Heat trailed by a point when James drove toward the paint and defenders closed in, prompting him to swing the ball to Bosh in the corner. It was the same spot where Bosh had missed a shot less than a minute earlier, and the same pass that James had been criticized for making in a loss to Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals.
“It’s the theater of the absurd when you’re dealing with what plays he makes at the end of the game,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said of the critiques of James’ play. “He makes the right basketball play, we trust him to make the right plays.”
Bosh’s shot went in this time and the Heat took a 95-93 lead that held when Spurs guard Manu Ginobili threw a pass off Tim Duncan’s hands out of bounds. James made one of two free throws with 47 seconds left and Ginobili missed a jumper to give the ball back to the Heat. Bosh then drove and passed to Wade for a layup that increased Miami’s cushion to five points with nine seconds to go.
Spurs guard Tony Parker scored 21 points and Duncan collected 18 points and 15 rebounds, his 157th playoff double-double, tying Magic Johnson’s record.
San Antonio’s flurry of missed free throws came after Miami’s Mario Chalmers was called for a flagrant one foul for hitting Parker in the ribs with 6:43 left.
Parker crumpled to the court underneath the basket before rising to miss the pair of free throws he was awarded. Duncan missed two more free throws nine seconds later.
“We didn’t take advantage of things, we made bad decisions,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said.
James scored 14 points and made six of seven shots in a nearly flawless third quarter. Eight of his points came in a span of 52 seconds midway through the quarter, a 19-foot jumper bookended by three-pointers. James made 14 of 22 shots for the game.
“In every series,” Wade said of James, “he gives us one of those performances.”
The day started for James with an 8 a.m. outdoor yoga class and ended with a late-night reminder of his legendary resolve.
“What happened on Thursday was Thursday,” James said. “My whole focus was how I was going to help this team even the series up and just try to make some plays.”