MIAMI -- The Block Of The Year was no match for the bold, badass arrogance of what happened next. Let's call it The Stare Of The Century.
That was the reflex reaction by LeBron James, and it was as ruthless as his rejection of a wind-up, windmill dunk attempt by Tiago Splitter, who now needs to go into hiding for the rest of the NBA Finals. While everyone else ran downcourt, LeBron just stood frozen under the basket for about two long seconds … and stared. He did nothing, he said nothing, but his stiff body language screamed plenty:
"Did Splitter really try that?"
"What was he thinking?"
"He wanted to posterize … me?"
"No … he … didn't."
Without moving his lips, LeBron taunted Splitter and the Spurs. The Stare was that cold, that direct. The Block was so thunderous, so powerful in terms of execution and a statement, so difficult to pull off for most players -- but not LeBron -- that it served as a reminder to everyone what the Heat are capable of doing when they step on the gas and get at it. You know, in case folks forgot in the two long days between Game 1 and Sunday.
"I was right next to him when he did it," said Ray Allen. "It was like he took the air right out of the ball."
And out of the Spurs.
"A lot of guys aren't that strong to pull that off, and when someone is really trying to dunk hard on you, guys will just get out of the way," Allen said. "LeBron won't."
The sound of the block -- smack! -- was precisely what the Heat did to the Spurs in a Game 2 blowout. Late in the third quarter the Spurs were up two points. Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Heat were up 27. Just like that. Smack. Only six minutes passed when the game and the series took a sharp turn. It was a blizzard, an avalanche of rebounds, steals, quick buckets, contributions from role players and of course, The Block. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was fairly blunt about what happened in that whiplash of a stretch:
"Miami played their asses off."
The Heat didn't play a flawless 48-minute game, far from it, actually. And LeBron, shooting-wise, was poor most of the night. But Miami doesn't have to be perfect to beat many teams, and that was what 103-84 was all about. That in itself should put a chill into the Spurs, who've done almost everything well to this point against LeBron, holding him to 18 and then 17 points, and yet needed a Tony Parker circus shot to draw even in the series.
What happens when LeBron figures out what Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs are doing defensively on him and goes nuts? You know and I know this is coming at some point. It was also discouraging for the Spurs to see Mario Chalmers outplay Parker. Chalmers, whose pride and ego is larger than his talent, took it personally when LeBron was asked to switch to Parker. The insinuation was clear -- Chalmers couldn't handle Parker and needed to be bailed out.
Well. One thing about Chalmers: That shot he made to win a national championship for Kansas wasn't a lucky fling. For all of his questionable decisions, Chalmers (19 points) lives for the big game, the big shot and big moment. As much as LeBron and Dwyane Wade chew him out and put him in check, they trust Chalmers. They know he's fearless, which is bad sometimes, and also sometimes good.
LeBron missed 10 of his first 12 shots but, as he promised, didn't force anything. He continued to look for teammates, and the shots they missed in Game 1 finally fell. Chalmers, Allen, Birdman Anderson, Mike Miller, they all had moments. LeBron's confidence in them paid off.
"I know what we have here," LeBron said. "I will continue to find my shooters if they're open. And I'll continue to put pressure on the defense. If I draw two, I'll find my shooters. I have confidence they're going to knock them down. They did tonight."
And so it was timely shooting and defense that sent the Heat flying to San Antonio with a better feeling about the Finals. Mild performances from the Big Three, at least by Big Three standards, didn't keep them from wining a game. And maybe another such uneven performance won't hold them back in the next three games in San Antonio, especially if the Spurs contribute to their demise with the kind of sloppiness (17 turnovers after having only five in Game 1) that doomed them Sunday.
But … back to The Block.
Splitter is a decent center, able to mix it up underneath, often mistake-prone but otherwise a worthy compliment to Tim Duncan. And give him respect for taking it strong against LeBron. He didn't try to finger-roll a weak shot or turn into Chris Bosh. He went strong.
And in mid-air, as he approached the target, he was stunned nonetheless to see LeBron rise and accept the challenge.
We'll leave it to you to determine whether LeBron's block was as good as or better than Roy Hibbert's rejection of Carmelo Anthony in the Knicks-Pacers series. Both were done cleanly and drew a gasp from the crowd. And both were game-changers; the Pacers took down the Knicks and LeBron's block was the trigger-point for Miami's big fourth quarter.
Yet one block was executed by a 7-foot-2 center against a small forward. Not such a big deal. The other block was done by LeBron, who goes 6-8, against Splitter, who goes 6-11. Bigger deal.
"I just wanted to make an impact some way," LeBron said. "Offensively, it was a struggle for me. I couldn't make a shot, I missed layups. So I just wanted to make a play and help our team, and I was able to protect the rim on that one."
"I was the last like of defense. I pride myself on that side
of the floor [Note: LeBron wasn't happy he lost Defensive Player of the Year to Marc Gasol]. Basically, I told myself you'll end up on (TV) getting dunked on or getting a block."
Smack. Both the dunk, and the Spurs, were sent flying backward on a Sunday when the Heat fought their way back into the NBA Finals and gave the Spurs something to think about for Game 3. We have a series now, and we have two vivid images. One is Parker stumbling and hitting a sweet bank shot that clinched Game 1. The other was LeBron, locked in a trance after The Block, staring at no one in particular, wondering why in the hell Splitter tried to embarrass him.
Did Splitter forget LeBron was the league MVP?
Did the Spurs?
Did anyone else?
Did you not think this would be a long series?
Well, we have one.