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.