SAN ANTONIO — A figurative punch to the gut for the Miami Heat was followed by a literal one for the San Antonio Spurs, and now the NBA Finals is tied at a game apiece.
Seventy-two hours after Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra described the loss of LeBron James for the final minutes of Game 1 as a “punch in the gut,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker actually got drilled in his stomach by an errant elbow from Mario Chalmers during a critical stretch in Game 2 that had a huge influence on the Heat’s 98-96 victory.
The Spurs led by two with 6 minutes, 43 seconds remaining, when Parker was trying to simply cut off Chalmers’s driving lane to the basket and got an elbow to his midsection for his reward. Parker dropped to the floor and needed a few minutes to regroup and recover before walking to the bench.
Officials assessed Chalmers with a flagrant foul, which gave the Spurs two foul shots and the ball. But Parker was clearly not right as he stepped to foul line and missed both free throws.
“It definitely affected me, but I’m a little bit frustrated. Should’ve made them,” Parker said after the game.
Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich pulled Parker to help him get better for the finish and the went directly inside to Tim Duncan. Duncan then drew a foul and he also missed two free throws as the Spurs wasted an opportunity to turn an 87-85 lead into a six-point lead. James then buried a three-pointer on the other end as the Heat went ahead by one.
“I don’t think we lose the game on that,” Parker said.
The Spurs were able to regain the lead when Parker hit a three-pointer to put the Spurs ahead, 93-92, with 2:25 left in the game. But the seven-point swing in favor of Miami was the most pivotal in a game filled with blown chances for San Antonio, which could’ve entered Game 3 in Miami up 2-0.
Instead, the Spurs made it easier for the Heat to hang around and eventually take the lead to stay on Chris Bosh’s three-pointer with 78 seconds remaining.
“We didn’t look like ourselves out there,” Danny Green said.
The Spurs could’ve spared themselves from the close finish with better execution in the second quarter, when they let an 11-point lead vanish became a one-point deficit in just six minutes. With two chances, to push the lead up, Kawhi Leonard missed a short jumper and Marco Belinelli missed a three-pointer.
Ray Allen made a three-pointer and James scored nine points — including an emphatic dunk in which he turned a Chalmers airball into an alley-oop pass — during a 15-2 run that dramatically changed the outlook in the game and now, the series.
“They’re going to make runs, you know?” Parker said. “They are a great team, and they got great shooters, and they’re very capable to make two or three threes in a row and come back in a game and that’s what they did.”
The Heat has won 13 straight games after a loss.
“You understand your back is up against the wall,” Allen said. “It’s a must-win situation. All the smaller things that we were doing, the mistakes — we still make mistakes, we still make blunders out there throughout the game. We didn’t let go of the rope at that crucial time when it was time to win.”
San Antonio has spent an entire season motivated by those missed free throws in Game 6 and Duncan’s missed layup in Game 7 in Miami. The Spurs now have to win at least one road game in the NBA Finals to win a championship.
“It’s our turn to go out and get one,” Parker said. “We know it’s going to be a long series and every game is going to be very tough and you have to be ready to go and be strong mentally and every fourth quarter is going to be big, every possession is going to be big. We just have to stay positive and it’s going to be a long series.”