An electrical failure ensured that the AT&T Center was scorching hot last night— 98 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact—but the Spurs’ offence down the stretch was even hotter. After Chris Bosh’s four-point play gave the Miami Heat a seven-point lead three minutes into the fourth quarter, San Antonio went on a 31-9 run, practically running Miami out of the building.
The Spurs, despite racking up some brutally sloppy turnovers (22 in total), finished the game shooting a blistering 58 per cent from the field—they went 13 of 25 from beyond the arc. Tim Duncan scored a team-high 21 points, while Tony Parker chipped in with 19 points and eight assists. For Miami, LeBron James (a lot more on him in just a bit) top-scored with 25 points, while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had 19 and 18 points, respectively.
The Spurs’ execution down the stretch was masterful—there’s no denying that—but the biggest storyline coming out of last night’s game was LeBron James being forced to sit out much of the fourth quarter with debilitating leg cramps.
Thanks to a malfunction that destroyed the air conditioning, the arena was stifling, a flashback to the 80s at the old Boston Garden. Now, James has cramped up before in playoff games, but it’s hard to not draw a connection between the ungodly temperature in the arena and his condition.
That said, it was an environment that both teams had to deal with, and the Spurs certainly dealt with that adversity much better. They took advantage of LeBron’s absence like vultures swarming around a carcass, while the Heat just seemed shell-shocked.
By the time Bosh had put the Heat up 86-79 (incidentally, the 76th time a player has been fouled shooting a three in these playoffs) LeBron was looking positively gassed. He had stopped driving to the basket and was settling for long jumpers instead. After a missed three-pointer by James, Duncan scored under the basket after some nifty Parker penetration—two-point game and LeBron motioned to coach Erik Spoelstra that he needed to sit.
Wade put the Heat up by four, 88-84, after the timeout, but soon after the Spurs took over. Danny Green, who had been held scoreless up until LeBron’s exit (the Heat did a great job chasing him off the three-point line), nailed a three to cut the Heat’s lead to a single point. On the next possession, Green found himself wide open again after the Heat’s defence collapsed. He made no mistake.
LeBron briefly re-entered the game, drove to the basket with Diaw defending him and scored. But King James could barely make it down the court on the subsequent possession and had to be removed from the game once again. Green made another three-pointer to open up a seven-point lead for the Spurs. Mario Chalmers, in foul trouble all night long, cut the deficit down to four points, before a Kawhi Leonard three in the corner effectively sealed the game for San Antonio.
Although the Spurs went on to win the game by fifteen points, Gregg Popovich would be the first to admit that the final score flattered his team. San Antonio were sloppy—at times it looked like they couldn’t even execute a simple entry pass into the post—but the Heat’s defense also forced them into a lot of errors. In fact, until LeBron cramped up, the Heat were playing the perfect road game.
Miami overcame a poor first half—one that Manu Ginobili dominated for San Antonio—to take control of the game by the third quarter. Wade looked fantastic: an Olajuwon-esque fake on Duncan underneath and a spin move on Ginobili in the lane were two reminders that the future Hall of Famer is still a force to be reckoned with. Chris Bosh, although he exposed himself defensively, successfully dragged Duncan out to the perimeter and was a headache all night. Ray Allen looked like the fittest player on the court as he scored 16 points off the bench for Miami, including a dunk in transition that had people wondering what year it was.
In the first half, a lot of the Spurs’ three-pointers (especially Ginobili’s) came at the end of the shot clock, after the Heat’s frantic defence had successfully shut down all other avenues of attack. In the third quarter, Miami did a great job fronting in the post, making it hard for the Spurs to get into their inside-out offensive sets. But a combination of the heat, LeBron’s related cramping,and the relentlessness of the Spurs offence eventually broke Miami.
As much as the Heat’s small-ball caused the Spurs problems on the perimeter, Spoelstra’s teams struggled to contain San Antonio inside. Tiago Splitter caused all kinds of problems rolling to the rim in the fourth quarter and Tim Duncan was practically un-guardable when he entered a good low-post position.
Ultimately, Game 1 reminded us of two things we already knew: The Spurs execute exceptionally well on offence, and the Heat cannot win without LeBron James.
It’s unlikely that the Spurs will shoot close to 60 per cent from downtown in Game 2. But the Heat, who defended the Spurs very well in phases last night, will need to lock in on defence for an entire 48 minutes—they cannot afford to fall asleep for even two or three minute spells against the Spurs. It’s also unlikely that the air conditioning will be broken for Game 2—I’m certain Pat Riley will see to it that it’s fixed.
Heat fans will need to hope that LeBron’s cramping was entirely related to the temperature and that it isn’t a chronic condition that will derail his finals. If he has problems playing down the stretch from here on in, this will be a very short series. So much hinges on the four-time MVP being at full strength.
The smart money, however, is on LeBron coming out and having a monster Game 2 on Sunday night—throughout his career, he’s bounced back strongly after a disappointing game. And the Heat as a team have an exceptional record of winning the second game of a series, after dropping the first. In the Big Three era the Heat have fallen 1-0 down in a playoff series on five occasions—not only have they won Game 2 each time, but they’ve gone on to win each of those series. The Spurs will surely clean up their turnovers in Game 2, but don’t count the resilient Heat out just yet.
Go get hydrated, LeBron.