by Mike Seely
For a man of his size, Tiago Splitter doesn't dunk often. Now the world knows why. In the midst of his team being on the wrong end of a 30-5 late-game run Sunday night in Miami, Splitter caught a Tony Parker pass at the dotted circle, took a step toward the bucket and rose, ball cocked, intent on packing home a slam. Beneath the hoop stood LeBron James, three inches shorter, 20 pounds heavier, and infinitely tougher than Splitter. His dunk attempt was stopped shy of the rim by the right hand of James, momentarily transformed into Mount Mutombo by Splitter, who finished with one rebound in 23 minutes of play.
It would be easy to dwell on Splitter's failure, just as it would be expedient to knock Tim Duncan's dreadful 3-13 night from the field, or to face the grim reality that Manu Ginobili simply isn't the same player as when the Spurs last won an NBA title. But despite suffering a 103-84 throttling at the hands of the Heat, San Antonio can head home with its head held high. In splitting the series' first two games in Miami, the Spurs did precisely what they needed to in order to sustain a decent chance of beating the Heat. Mission fuckin' accomplished, even if the final firefight didn't go so swell.
There were three bright spots for the Spurs, in spite of the blowout. One was Kawhi Leonard, who grabbed 14 rebounds — eight offensive — in his role as the anti-Splitter. Another was Danny Green, who was perfect from the field (5-5 from long range) en route to 17 points. (Green also showed incredible restraint when he declined to coldcock Juwan Howard after the ancient Heat benchwarmer shouted in his ear as Green stroked a corner three.). And, for the second consecutive game, the Spurs held James to under 20 points on sub-.500 shooting (remember, he shot an unbelievable 56 percent during the regular season), daring his teammates to beat them. Unfortunately, they did — but Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Mike Miller aren't going to shoot a combined 8-12 from three in every game.
Final scores can be deceiving. The Heat were playing for their lives Sunday night, and for nearly three quarters, the Spurs had them on the ropes. James typically rules the court with such confidence that his eyes all but bleed it. Yet until the fourth quarter, the winded King wore an "oh shit" look on his face, resigned to the fact that he wouldn't be avenging his '07 Finals loss through a series of 40-point outbursts. Miami's late-game eruption should do nothing to eliminate such anxiety. James remembers the Alamo all too well, and the Spurs now have three games at home to make sure he never forgets it.