The San Antonio Spurs are well within their rights to down a team like the Miami Heat by a 110-95 score. They’re good enough to top the two-time defending champs with a 31-9 run to end the contest, and San Antonio is also good enough to keep a star like LeBron James in check down the stretch of a winnable contest for Miami.
The San Antonio Spurs couldn’t possibly have imagined that the team’s Game 1 win in the 2014 NBA Finals would have come this way, though. What with James having to sit out the final 4:10 of the contest due to cramping, a possible result of San Antonio’s AT&T Center’s air conditioning units having malfunctioned.
James had to beg out of playing the last few minutes of Game 1 after scoring a needed lay-in to bring Miami within two points. The dehydrated superstar had been icing both his neck and thighs in the minutes prior to being helped to the sideline, the likely result of a stadium’s AC unit gone haywire. His removal marred a fantastic contest between the two combatants that lined up for a classic seven-game Finals turn in 2013, with both sides trading stellar offensive play in the hour and a half leading up to San Antonio’s sweaty fourth-quarter run.
Tim Duncan, as is his custom, led the Spurs with 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the win, but the Spurs toppled the defending champs by offering their usual brand of read-and-react basketball. Reserve Boris Diaw turned in perhaps the most effective 1-of-5 shooting night in NBA Finals history by putting the Heat on their heels while dishing six assists, pulling in ten rebounds and keeping the ball moving through his various feints and fakes.
Manu Ginobili was an early catalyst for San Antonio, managing three quick three-pointers in his first four minutes off the bench, while Tony Parker outlasted the withering heat and Heat on his way to 19 points and eight assists. Danny Green nailed three three-pointers in the second half, and the starting Tiago Splitter finished several desperate looks in the paint on his way to 14 points; shots that were badly needed when the Heat looked like they were set to pull away.
Miami had its chances to pull away, but even with James on the court the squad could not handle San Antonio’s spacing and precision passing. When those passes hit their mark, at least.
San Antonio turned the ball over 22 times in the win, 10 more than the team’s playoff average, and in ways that went well beyond the AC-inspired excuse of having a sweaty orange and rubbery rock to toss around. The team took chances with its passing, though, in ways that should bode well for Game 2 and beyond provided coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t pin their ears to the wall when the group breaks down Game 1’s tape in over an “off” day.
Miami had its own turnover issues, coughing the ball up nine times in the first half, and 16 overall, but the team’s loss can’t be pinned on any single element. Losing the NBA’s best player during the clutch minutes of a contest hurt, to be sure, but Miami also had several good looks from behind the arc (Ray Allen missed five three-pointers, all of them just about wide open), it failed to get to the free-throw line (just 11 attempts, half of what San Antonio managed), and it seemed to give into playing at San Antonio’s pace.
And, yes, the team’s most valuable player had to sit out the final 4:10 after scoring 25 points in just 32 minutes. That tends to shift the odds.
San Antonio did not win this game because LeBron James had to sit out those final minutes, but his absence didn’t exactly hurt the home team. Game 1 was a one possession game for most of the contest, it was a one possession game when LeBron sat, and the eventual 15-point win for San Antonio was not a proper representation of how the back-and-forth played out in the 44 minutes that James seemed willing and able to lope up and down the court.
The takeaway is that the NBA has another classic Finals on its hands. Provided that it can afford the Freon.
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