SAN ANTONIO: A couple of missed free throws cost the San Antonio Spurs last season’s NBA title.
A few more misses — by their two best players — probably cost them a chance for a 2-0 lead in this year’s finals as well.
Tony Parker scored 21 points and Tim Duncan added 18, but they went 0 for 4 from the foul line in a critical stretch of the fourth quarter, and those points loomed very large at night’s end.
LeBron James scored 35 points, Chris Bosh added 18 and the Miami Heat evened up the NBA Finals with a 98-96 win over the Spurs on Sunday night, sending the series back to South Florida knotted at a game apiece.
Game 3 is Tuesday.
The game was played in comfortable conditions inside the AT&T Center, where an air conditioning failure in Game 1 sent temperatures soaring to about 90 degrees in the second half. The problem, caused by a broken circuit breaker, was fixed by Friday afternoon, and it was much cooler inside the arena when the teams arrived Sunday.
James had the toughest time with the heat Thursday, needing treatment midway through the fourth quarter before eventually having to leave for good.
He had plenty of time for treatment, with the finals schedule calling for two days off between Games 1 and 2.
He was only 1 for 4 with three turnovers in the first quarter but looked fine in taking over during the second.
After their sensational finish to Game 1, the Spurs picked up right where they left off, making 10 of their first 15 shots.
They led 26-17 after Duncan’s follow shot with 1:49 left, but missed a chance to expand their lead by committing three straight turnovers, and coach Gregg Popovich looked irate when the quarter ended with San Antonio ahead 26-19.
The Spurs opened an 11-point lead early in the second before James got going. He had three straight Miami baskets, and a follow shot later in the period gave the Heat their first lead at 34-33.
He and Dwyane Wade had the final two baskets in the half to forge the tie.
The Spurs had some costly misses by Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard in Game 6 against Miami last season, part of a wild Heat comeback from five points down in the final 28.2 seconds to force overtime and a deciding seventh game.
This stretch wasn’t as dramatic, but just as costly.
Even though games are often remembered by one play — Ray Allen’s 3-pointer in Game 6 of last year’s finals, a prime example — coaches routinely say that winning or losing hardly ever comes down to a singular moment.
But when the Spurs look back on Game 2, it’ll be a nine-second stretch that they regret most.
Miami guard Mario Chalmers was driving with 6:43 left when he elbowed Parker in the midsection, getting called for a Flagrant-1 after review. But Parker missed both free throws, and after Duncan was fouled nine seconds later he missed another pair from the line.
Nine seconds, four free throws, two Spurs leaders, zero points.
On the ensuing Miami possession, James made a 3-pointer from the left wing, turned and appeared to have a word or two for those in the expensive courtside seats, and the Heat had an 88-87 lead.
Back and forth the teams went, but in the end, just like last season, the Heat simply found a way.
Just like that, San Antonio’s run of eight straight home playoff wins — all by 15 or more points — was over.
And so was the Spurs’ chances of boarding a plane on Monday halfway to a fifth NBA title.