Well, at least the lights worked.
We knew Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat was going to be a hotly contested battle, but we didn't know just how hot things were going to get in the AT&T Center on Thursday evening:
Word on the grapevine: A/C in the AT&T Center is done-ski.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) June 6, 2014
Hmmmm so I guess the air conditioning isn't working in this arena 😁😳 it's like 108 degrees and everyone fanning themselves— Adrienne Bosh (@MrsAdrienneBosh) June 6, 2014
Half the crowd here fanning themselves like a damsel about to pass out in the 1920s.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) June 6, 2014
Ref Scott Foster just before the second half: "It's hotter than summer league in Philly when I was coming up."— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) June 6, 2014
The arena didn't acknowledge the issue until after the third quarter, with a public address announcement that was met, as you'd expect, with boos.
"An electrical failure for the power that runs the AC system in the AT&T Center has occurred," Spurs Sports & Entertainment said in a statement. "We are continuing to work on resolving the problem. We apologize for any inconvenience."
"Inconvenience," of course, is putting it mildly. After halftime, ABC's Doris Burke reported that the temperature near courtside reached 88 degrees. By midway through the fourth quarter, it had topped 90 degrees.
At first, the malfunction led to jokes:
Is the air conditioning 'malfunction' an Auerbachian tactic?— Myles Brown (@mdotbrown) June 6, 2014
And, again, conspiracy theorists wonder ... RT "@sevenkit7 AC is broken. They just said it on the broadcast."— Dave Hyde (@davehydesports) June 6, 2014
Heat star LeBron James, wired for sound for the Game 1 broadcast, joked on the bench in the first half that the Spurs were "trying to smoke us out." Later, though, the conditions would become a much more serious matter for the four-time Most Valuable Player.
The ramped-up temperatures didn't seem to bother either team too much during the first half, as both the Spurs (54 points on 50 percent shooting from both 2-point and 3-point range) and Heat (49 points on 47.5 percent shooting, including a 5-for-13 mark from deep) seemed plenty comfortable offensively. That, however, would change as the game wore on.
After asking out of the game a couple of times earlier in the contest, James began cramping in the fourth quarter. He first left the game at the 7:31 mark of the fourth, with the Heat leading 86-84; San Antonio promptly went on a 10-4 run to take a 94-90 lead and lead Erik Spoelstra to take a Heat timeout.
James returned after that break, but was almost immediately sent back to the sideline, having to be carried to the bench after cramping up again following a made layup:
James exited the game for good at the 3:59 mark. He finished with a Heat-high 25 points on 9 for 17 shooting, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and four turnovers in 33 minutes.
Smelling blood in the water, the Spurs seized their opportunity.
San Antonio closed the game on a 16-3 run — and, actually, a 31-9 run over the final 9:38 — and shooting a scorching 14 for 16 in the fourth quarter to earn a 110-95 win that gives them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. While San Antonio might have seemed unbothered by the conditions, Spurs star Tim Duncan, who led the way with 21 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, told ABC's Burke after the game that the Spurs were feeling it, too.
"It was significant," Duncan said, dripping sweat. "It was definitely a factor. I don't know what happened with LeBron, but I think all of us were feeling the heat. We're all dehydrated. We played through it and found a way to win."
Asked what it was like to watch James struggle and to play the Heat without their best player on the floor due in part to the conditions, Duncan said the Spurs just focused on what they could control.
"You know what? In this situation, I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm worried about trying to get that lead back, trying to get that win. Obviously, you don't want anyone to get hurt, but all we're focused on is trying to get back down that other end and score."
Popovich, buoyed by his team coming away with the victory, briefly made light of the situation in his postgame press conference:
"I'm sure that, you know, both teams are happy that we have a couple of days before the next game," Popovich said. "Hopefully, we can pay our bills."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the arena situation "an unusual environment," but refused to use it, or James' exit, as an excuse for Miami's late-game struggles.
"We’re used to having the hotter arena at this time of year," he joked. "But both teams had to deal with it. It's unfortunate that it was that way. It was how we responded in those minutes after that point, I think. It felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limping like that back to the bench, but at the same time we still had opportunities to make plays going down the stretch and, you know, they made, obviously, the biggest plays in the last five minutes."
James, who went back to the locker room during the fourth quarter, received intravenous fluids after the game.
NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn told reporters after the game that the league never considered stopping or canceling Game 1 due to the heat issue.
"Once the game starts, it's in the hands of the referees," Thorn told ESPN's Michael Wilbon. "If the referees felt the court was unsafe, they would have come to midcourt and talked to me about it. You didn't see people slipping, the floor was dry … you know, things happen. In live sporting events, sometimes things happen."
Thorn said AT&T Center officials expect things to be "perfect" come Sunday's Game 2. It might not be a bad idea for everybody to have an extra Gatorade and a couple of bananas handy, though, just in case.
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