LeBron cramps up while Spurs withstand heat, Heat; Spurs take Game 1

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SAN ANTONIO — Going into the NBA Finals depth was one of San Antonio’s key advantages, it could win them a game in this series.

This is not exactly how anyone expected it to happen, but the Spurs depth won them Game 1.

With the air conditioning out and the temperatures in the AT&T Center climbing into the 90s (and it was a humid 90s, this was bikram basketball) LeBron James cramped up and barely played the final 7:31 of the game.

With that the Spurs went on a 26-9 run to close the game and took Game 1 110-95. The Spurs now lead the best-of-7 series 1-0.

LeBron cramped up so badly he went back to the locker room with a couple minutes left.

“It was an unusual environment, we’re used to having the hotter building this time of year…” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game, sticking with the idea that both teams had to play in it. “I think it felt like a punch to the gut when you see your leader limping back to the bench.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever played in anything like this since I left the islands,” said Tim Duncan, a native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Spurs are used to trusting their role players, giving them big minutes and expecting them to make plays under pressure. Gregg Popovich rotated those guys in and the Spurs were fresher for it.  The Heat are the LeBron and Dwyane Wade show, and without LeBron the Spurs’ defense flattened out the Heat offense and shut them down late.

“We were like ‘let’s keep pushing the pace,’ they were starting to look tired and LeBron was asking out,” Tony Parker said after the game, adding this felt like a European gym to him (“we don’t have air conditioning [for games]”).

San Antonio’s offense got the shots it wanted all night long with fantastic ball movement — the Spurs shot 58.8 percent overall and hit 13-of-25 from three (late in the game the wilting Heat players could not close out on shooters leaving open shots, plus the Spurs ran them into the ground in transition). 

The Spurs got 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting from Tim Duncan, 19 points from Tony Parker and 16 from Manu Ginobili. Danny Green was 3-of-3 from deep in the third and had 11 points in the fourth quarter to help lead the charge back.

San Antonio would have dominated the game if Miami’s defense had not forced turnovers — the Spurs had 22 in the game, 8 in the third quarter, which fueled some easy buckets for Miami and had them leading after three quarters.

Before Miami literally wilted in the heat.

“They made shots, we made a few mistakes and they capitalized on them,” Dwyane Wade said of the Spurs fourth quarter run. He refused to blame that on LeBron being out.

In the first half the Spurs got seemingly everything they wanted — an up tempo game and 15 points out of Tim Duncan rolling to the rim — and that got them a 54-49 lead at the break. San Antonio’s passing was crisp and it led to 50% shooting overall for the Spurs — plus they were 7-of-14 from three.

Miami got 25 points from LeBron but just 2 in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh had 18 on 7-of-11 shooting and Dwyane Wade had 19 points on 18 shots. Ray Allen added 16.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.