SAN ANTONIO — This time, the other guys were in pain.
LeBron James, who exited Game 1 of the NBA Finals in the fourth quarter due to leg cramps, returned in a big way Sunday night for Game 2.
The Miami forward scored 35 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and assisted on a shot by center Chris Bosh that gave the Heat the lead for good in a 98-96 win over the San Antonio Spurs.
The Heat evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
James said he tried not to think about Game 1 on Thursday, when he was carried off the court by teammates in the fourth quarter. As for preparations, James said, “I took an 8 a.m. yoga class at the resort we stayed at. That was probably the only thing I did differently.”
James flourished after receiving criticism from some fans and media for not finishing Game 1.
“He’s one of the most stable mentally tough guys I’ve ever been around,” Miami coach
Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s why it raises the hair on the back of my neck when people question him. He’s the best player in the game.”
And too much for the Spurs on Sunday.
“LeBron with the ball did a great job at his end and we had to be really pretty perfect at the other end,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
They were far from that. Miami outshot San Antonio 52.9 to 43.9 percent from the field and 76.2 to 60.0 at the free-throw line. The Spurs missed eight free throws.
Bosh scored 18 points, while guard Dwyane Wade and forward Rashard Lewis added 14 apiece for Miami.
Guard Tony Parker led the Spurs with 21 points while guard Manu Ginobili added 19.
San Antonio forward Tim Duncan produced 18 points and 15 rebounds for his 157th career playoff double-double, matching Magic Johnson’s NBA record. But Duncan was scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing with his only official field-goal attempt and both free throws.
The Spurs hit just six of 17 shots in the fourth quarter, when they failed to exhibit their trademark movement of the ball and bodies.
“You move it or you die,” Popovich said. “We tried to do it individually, and we’re not good enough to do that.”
The Spurs squandered a big opportunity after Miami guard Mario Chalmers was called for a flagrant-1 foul with 6:43 left in the game for elbowing Parker in the torso.
Parker, shaken up on the play, missed both free throws and then left the game. The Spurs retained possession because of the flagrant foul, but Duncan missed two subsequent free throws.
Parker said the foul affected him at the free throw line but added he, “should have made them.”
Making matters worse, James made a 3-point shot, giving Miami an 88-87 lead, after the Spurs missed those free throws.
Parker returned and made a 3-point shot that gave the Spurs a 93-92 lead with 2:25 left.
Bosh put Miami back in front with a 3-pointer with 1:18 left after James drove into the lane and passed him the ball.
James scored 14 points in the third quarter, including eight during a span of less than a minute. He hit his first six shots of the period.
“Once I get into a good groove, I feel like everything is gonna go in,” James said.
Even so, when the quarter was over, the Heat had lost ground from the first half, which ended in a tie.
Parker gave the Spurs a 78-77 lead after three quarters with one of his renowned tear-drop shots in the lane.
San Antonio led by 11 early in the second quarter but dropped into a 43-43 tie at halftime.
Duncan was largely responsible for the Spurs’ early lead, hitting five of six shots inside during the first quarter.
However, the Spurs endured some critical lapses in the second quarter, and James led a surge by Miami. He scored 11 points in the quarter, including nine out of 10 for the Heat during a span of less than three minutes.
The Spurs helped the Miami comeback. On one play, San Antonio guard Marco Belinelli gave Heat guard Ray Allen the space to make an open 3-point shot. On another, Spurs center Tiago Splitter threw away a pass, starting a fast break that ended with a basket by Wade.
Then came James, with 22 points in the second half, enabling the Heat to head back to Miami even with the Spurs.
“We took a tough one today,” Ginobili said. “We were in a good spot.”