By Steve Ginsburg
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – LeBron James bounced back from the cramps that forced him out of the NBA Finals opener by scoring 35 points to lead the Miami Heat to a 98-96 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday and even the series at one game each.
James went both inside and outside to hit 14 of 22 shots, including all three from beyond the arc, grab 10 rebounds and deliver a key assist down the stretch to secure the win.
“He carried us,” said Heat guard Ray Allen. “He made some big shots. I don’t think they had an answer for him and he got it going. And we needed every bit of it.”
With San Antonio leading 93-92 and giving their full attention to James, the four-time NBA MVP delivered a nifty pass to Chris Bosh, who nailed a three-pointer with 1:18 left.
“It was rewarding in that it was a huge play to help us win,” said James.
“I just seen it develop the whole time, and I wanted to try to put some pressure towards the rim, and I caught Tim Duncan peeking at me a little bit.
“I was able to find C.B. in the corner in one of his favorite spots on the floor and he knocked it down.”
A foul shot by James and a Dwyane Wade lay-up with nine seconds left gave the Heat a 98-93 lead before a three-pointer at the buzzer by the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili made the score closer than it actually was.
“LeBron with the ball did a great job at his end and we had to be really pretty perfect at the other end and we (weren’t),” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “We didn’t take advantage of things, we made bad decisions.
“We didn’t do it as a group. We tried to do it individually and we’re not good enough to do that.”
Tony Parker led San Antonio with 21 points, followed by Ginobili with 19 and Duncan with 18.
The Spurs won the first game of the finals, 110-95, in San Antonio and the series now shifts to Miami for the next two games, with Game Three set for Tuesday.
All eyes were on James on Sunday to see if had recovered from the leg cramps that sent him to the sidelines for most of the fourth quarter on Thursday.
He was misfiring early on Sunday, making just one of his first four shots and committing three turnovers.
But in the second quarter, he had 11 points, 14 more in the third, and eight in the fourth. He scored mostly inside in the first half before finding his jump shot in the second.
“In the first half, I got into the paint, made some shots, got some rebounds, put pressure on their defense,” said James. “In the second half they backed up off me and I shot it.”
San Antonio guard Danny Green said James was making ‘contested jumpers’ but the Spurs failed to alter their defense.
“We didn’t expect him to shoot that well but he got hot,” he said. That’s what stars do in this league. You’ve got to make adjustments.”
San Antonio was hurt by poor foul shooting, hitting only 12 of 20, including just two of six in the pivotal fourth quarter.
“We lost a game, we not going to hang out heads,” said Duncan, who scored 11 points in the opening quarter but only seven the rest of the way.
“We’re going to regroup. We know we can play better.”
An electrical outage that caused the air conditioning to quit at the AT&T Center on Thursday was repaired and there were no heat issues on Sunday.
James, who probably suffered the cramps on Thursday because the courtside temperatures reached close to 90 degrees (32C), played only 37 minutes on Sunday.
The 29-year-old, 10-time All-Star said he did not want to dwell on the issue.
“Mentally I didn’t want to even think about it too much,” he said. “What happened on Thursday was Thursday.”
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; editing by Gene Cherry and Greg Stutchbury)