San Antonio was able to control two types of heat on Thursday night. The Spurs took advantage of playing Game 1 of the NBA Finals on their home court, defeating the Miami Heat 110-95.
The Spurs also took advantage of the high temperatures in their arena, as an air-conditioning failure caused temperatures to reach above 90 degrees throughout the entire game.
*Insert pun about how the Heat couldn’t handle the heat here*
During the fourth quarter, the heat started to affect the game’s leading scorer, LeBron James, who pulled himself out of the game before a 15-4 run by the Spurs. James came back into the game with about four minutes left and hit a layup that cut the game to two points. However, that would be the final basket of James’ 25 points, as James was not able to run back onto defense. He looked hopeless as he limped around on the baseline, raising his hand to come out of the game.
Well, Jordan had his flu game.
And LeBron had his…cramp game?
The Spurs certainly took advantage of James’ absence, just like they should have, ending the game on a 16-3 run. Duncan was also able to take advantage of the Heat’s lack of size, posting 21 points and 10 rebounds in the win. The Spurs’ guards looked healthy, as Tony Parker finished with 19 points and eight assists, and Manu Ginobili scored 16 points, along with 11 assists. Danny Green may not set another finals’ three-point record this year, but he hit three three-pointers down the stretch that may have sealed the win for the Spurs.
However, it was clear the heat was affecting both teams throughout the game. The Spurs turned the ball over 22 times and had trouble keeping James and Wade from penetrating into the paint. The Heat weren’t much more careful with the ball, committing 16 turnovers, and had difficulty closing out on the Spurs’ wide open shooters.
It is unlikely that the Spurs or the Heat will play as poorly as they did Thursday night in Game 2. There were moments in Game 1 where the Spurs had virtually no way of stopping James, as Kawhi Leonard got himself into foul trouble in the first half, forcing Boris Diaw to go one-on-one with James. This usually ended in an easy layup or a trip to the foul line for James. There were also possessions where the Spurs looked like a middle school basketball team that was overwhelmed by the pace of the game. The Spurs inability to run the offense effectively caused quick possessions and sloppy passes that resulted in Miami fast break opportunities.
It is clear that the Heat have the advantage when it comes to athleticism. Tim Duncan had trouble coming over in time to help out on James when he attacked Diaw. The Spurs need to always have help defense available when James drives, especially when Diaw is his defender. The Heat were also able to beat the Spurs on the fast break throughout the game. James and Wade were able to outrun San Antonio off a rebound or steal, leading to two-on-one fast break opportunities favoring Miami. Even veteran Ray Allen showcased his athletic ability on a fast-break dunk.
The Heat were able to control the game in the fourth quarter until James got hurt, and it is unlikely the AT&T Center will feel like a blistering sauna again in Game 2. Therefore, it is unlikely that the Heat will close out another game as poorly as they did on Thursday night. I expect the Heat to rebound from this game, and continue to attack the paint and take advantage of their athleticism in Game 2. The Spurs were lucky to be able to finish the game without James on the court. They will need to be more precise and effective on offense, and be able to force Miami out of the paint on defense.
Ultimately, nobody will care about LeBron leaving Game 1 early if the Heat come back and win this series. However, the criticism will continue to come his way if the Heat fail to three-peat.