Finals head to South Beach knotted at 1-1

Miami’s Dwyane Wade (3) and LeBron James (6) celebrate after Sunday’s win against San Antonio that evened the NBA Finals at 1-1 heading into tonight’s Game 3. (Reuters)

Miami’s Dwyane Wade (3) and LeBron James (6) celebrate after Sunday’s win against San Antonio that evened the NBA Finals at 1-1 heading into tonight’s Game 3. (Reuters)

MIAMI — LeBron James avoided cramping issues in Game 2, and he looks to help Miami take the series lead when the Heat host the San Antonio Spurs tonight in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

James received plenty of criticism for the Game 1 situation in which he missed most of the final 7 1/2 minutes, but his legs held up fine on Sunday as Miami evened the series. James had 35 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2.

“Look, he’s the best player in the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He has an incredible way to put his fingerprints on a game.”

San Antonio played a lackluster fourth quarter in Sunday’s 98-96 loss, and a tipping point was when point guard Tony Parker and power forward Tim Duncan each missed two free throws in a nine-second span with the Spurs leading by two points midway through the stanza.

James scored the next five points and San Antonio held the lead just once the remainder of the contest. Chris Bosh hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:17 left and James finished 14-of-22 shooting in a strong bounce-back performance.

San Antonio closed Game 1 with an impressive 31-9 burst but lacked a finishing kick in Game 2 when it went 6-of-17 shooting in the final quarter.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noticed issues well before the final 12 minutes and was greatly disappointed with the club’s approach.

“We can’t put it in somebody’s hands and have them create everything for us,” Popovich said. “It’s got to be a group effort and we didn’t do that. That puts a lot of pressure on everything else. It means we’re going to have to be perfect on defense, we can’t miss four free throws in a row, those sort of things.”

Bosh scored 18 points in Game 2 as he was assertive in making sure he got his touches.

He not only drained the decisive shot but also threaded a pinpoint pass to guard Dwyane Wade for a layup with 9.4 seconds to give the Heat an insurmountable five-point lead.

James was most impressed with some dunks Bosh threw down while being ecstatic about his teammate’s solid all-around game.

“He had two dunks that we haven’t seen in a long time, man,” James said. “When he has that mindset, he just mixes it up. He’s the forgotten guy on our team. Shouldn’t be. Obviously, without his aggressiveness, we don’t win.”

Bosh is so accustomed to taking a backseat to James andWade that he sometimes believes the Heat’s Big Three should be called the Big 2.5.

And he’s all right with it.

“Validating yourself is a constant process,” he said. “I really let that go a long time ago. I don’t care about those things. I just care about the game.

“I focus on the game and what we’re supposed to do with it. We have a chance to compete for another championship. That’s all that matters to me right now.”

But Bosh’s role in the Heat’s success is not lost on Spoelstra.

“He’s arguably our most important player,” he said. “We’ve said that now for four years. And it’s not just because of that shot.

“That’s what everybody notices, and if he’s not getting the normal opportunities, and he’s not scoring, or doesn’t have big rebound numbers, it seems from the outside everybody is so critical about his game. But for us he has a lot on his plate.”