He needed help. He needed Mario Chalmers knocking down jumpers off those kick-out passes LeBron fired at him. He needed Mike Miller, Chris Andersen and Ray Allen to put up numbers, 50 points in all, to even the series at one game apiece, before the series heads to San Antonio.
LeBron, who made just 3 of his first 13 shots, needed to struggle mightily and genuinely frighten the 20,000 people crammed into this little bandbox they call the Triple-A near Biscayne Bay. He needed to scare them badly Sunday night into thinking his team might go down 0-2 for one reason:
While you can’t repeat without your star making shots, you also can’t win a championship if your role players are awful and stand around waiting for the star to bail them out.
“I already know what we have here,” LeBron said after he scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth quarter of game-turned-rout of the Spurs. “I don’t really read into it of what people want more of me of whatever the case. I will continue to find my shooters, if they’re open. If I draw two, I’ll find my shooters. I have confidence they’re going to knock them down.”
The moment he left Cleveland the possibility of being Magic, Bird, Michael, Isiah or Tim Duncan or Bill Russell disappeared. He could no longer stick around and win multiple titles with the team that drafted him. But he could certainly become Shaquille O’Neal or Kevin Garnett or any of the other future Hall of Famers who needed to leave to win it all.
And Sunday night showed how important a supporting cast is for him.
By the time LeBron dunked menacingly ahead of everyone on the break, the score was 93-67 and the game was over midway through the fourth quarter after a devastating 33-5 Heat run. A 62-61 Spurs lead at the end of the third quarter had vanished amid an array of blocks, dunks and deep jumpers from the Heat.
The Spurs’ role players are all younger than most of the Heat’s role players. If they are decidedly better the next week and a half, San Antonio probably hoists the trophy after it’s over.
That why Miami’s role players finally had to rise to the challenge in Game 2. If that was a harbinger of their play to come,
It’s a good sign this series is going at least six games.
“I think the supporting cast is really why both teams are here,” LeBron said. “They feel like their supporting cast is better. We feel like our supporting cast is better. It’s who goes out and do it every night to help seal wins.”
Chalmers, his ego bruised by the fact that LeBron had to move over and guard Tony Parker more, finally showed his merit as a spot-up shooter when LeBron penetrated and kicked out. He scored 19, setting his feet, releasing and firing with regularity during big Miami runs. He looked as confident as the Kansas kid who shot down Memphis at the end of the national title game.
When LeBron couldn’t hit anything, it was a clarion call for someone, anyone, to respond other than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who both had decent games.
If neither Chalmers nor Andersen, whose energy was contagious during two stretches, showed up then the worst-case scenario would have emerged for Miami: LeBron or bust.
The Heat can’t repeat that way. It needed to be the same team that whizzed the ball around the perimeter against Oklahoma City in the Finals a year ago, when it didn’t matter who was open; chances were they were knocking the shot down. They needed that kind of synergy Sunday night more than ever for the simple fact that no team has ever lost the first two home games of the NBA Finals and come back to win a series.
Then it happened, the most incredible run of the Heat’s postseason — a rare glimpse of the team that dominated the regular season, winning the most games in a row (27) since the 1971-72 Lakers of Wilt and Elgin.
Each defensive stop was followed by a deep jumper, set up by a bullish drive toward the rim. LeBron finally ended up with 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, scoring nine of his points in the final quarter.
But it’s what got him there that mattered most, a combined effort by his supporting cast.
Allen was also very good, knocking down that radar jumper with same effortless stroke that he came into the league with in 1996.
Great shooters are the best ticket to longevity in the NBA there is. Glen Rice, Jeff Hornacek, Alex English and Dell Curry all played for more than 13 years because of their beautiful strokes. Reggie Miller and Eddie Johnson got 17 seasons out of their ability to rise, release, fire and swish.
Allen is going on 17 seasons, and his shot is no less pretty than it was when he arrived to the NBA from Connecticut. He could probably play another three years if he wanted.
Can Miami win if LeBron misses 10 of his first 13 shots in Games 3, 4 and 5 in San Antonio? No. But at least Sunday night his struggles led to a needed solution for the Heat in this series: help.
It’s why he came to Miami in the first place; he realized he couldn’t do it alone in Cleveland. Now that his crew has evened things up, things are about to get really interesting in San Antonio.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.