Spurs fight through heat, Heat, turnovers in Game 1 win
SAN ANTONIO–During the 2011 NBA Lockout, Tim Duncan, Danny Green and former Spur James Anderson found themselves on a track at a local high school in northeast San Antonio running sprints on a 100 degree day. All in the name of offseason conditioning, these guys subjected themselves to cardio training the brutal Texas heat.
Anderson eventually left San Antonio, but Green found himself a roster spot that season which turned into a guaranteed three-year deal and a place in the starting lineup, while Duncan continues to keep Father Time at arm’s length and contend for All-NBA honors.
You can forgive me if this story is the first thing that came to mind as I hastily unbuttoned the third button from my dress shirt while watching the San Antonio Spurs take Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. It was a 110-95 victory that will be remembered more for the air conditioning going out in an enclosed arena that holds 18,581 people radiating body heat than anything that occurred on the floor.
“Hopefully we can pay our bills [for Game 2],” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said as he finished up his press conference after the game.
Following Game 1, the temperatures inside the AT&T Center were the story. And they weren’t.
Before the game I took off my blazer and left it at my seat in the media workroom, thinking that it was simply the additional bodies milling around for the Finals and nothing more. You see, the Finals brings something like four times as many people to the floor before the game and in the hallways below the stands. I attributed the pregame stuffiness to that increase.
When fans were using their foldable paper noisemakers as fans just minutes into the game, it was clear that there was something else entirely going on.
But both teams played through it. Pop said after the game that he shuffled his lineups more than usual in an effort to keep his team fresh.
“Kind of screws up the rhythm a little bit, but it was mighty hot out there,” he said.
All was fine and dandy, however, until LeBron James went down with 3:59 left in the game. James got past Boris Diaw and hit a layup then went down with a cramp and stayed there until the Heat could foul on the other end to stop play. LeBron limped to the sideline and was carried the rest of the way to the Miami bench by a couple of Heat staffers. He didn’t return to the game and San Antonio’s two-point lead ballooned to a 15-point final margin.
James leaving the game wasn’t why Miami lost, but his not returning might have sealed it. The situation was reminiscent of Game 1 of the 2007 second round against the Phoenix Suns when Steve Nash butted heads with Tony Parker and busted open his nose. Suns trainers struggled to get the bleeding to stop and couldn’t get Nash back into the game. Sometimes the breaks go your way.
The Spurs took Game 1 despite an ungodly 23 turnovers. It should be said, though, that the Heat had 18 of their own. San Antonio’s giveaways were curious, as they weren’t the result of an out of rhythm offense. Quite the contrary, in fact, as San Antonio shot 59 percent for the game and consistently created good looks all over the floor. Tim Duncan shot 9-for-10, Tiago Splitter was 5-for-6, Parker hit both of his 3-point attempts, Marco Belinelli was 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. San Antonio created plenty of scoring opportunities all over the floor in Game 1 and they converted them with regularity.
San Antonio simply turned the ball over a lot because, well, they did. Miami took away options on offense and the Spurs reacted. Sometimes the ball went behind a Spur into the arms of a Miami player. Other times it went to a wide open shooter ready to fire away.
One of those shooters was Danny Green. Last season Icy Hot made a name for himself in the Finals, even ending up in the series MVP discussion for a hot second. 24 minutes into this series and it looked like he wanted to be anywhere than where he was.
In the first half, he was indecisive. Green pump-faked too much and was slow to adjust to the speed of the game. On one possession he spotted up in the corner, received a pass, saw 38-year-old Ray Allen closing out on him and… hesitated. Icy Hot failed to get off a shot and the Spurs lost high percentage look at three points.
In the second half, Green just missed. He saw open looks like the rest of his teammates and couldn’t knock them down as they circled the drain, bounced in and out, and clanged away.
With six minutes remaining, Green finally got over the hump. Boris Diaw found Icy Hot for a 3-pointer that rippled the net. On the following possession, Diaw again whipped a pass out to Green on the left wing and Icy Hot drained another. His reaction was if to say thank god, I can’t afford a slump now. He followed that up with a big dunk off a steal over Rashard Lewis and another 3-pointer for good measure.
“He sort of struggled for 40 minutes, but he kept his head in the game and he was the difference maker,” Ginobili said afterwards.
Back-to-back 3s from Parker and Kawhi Leonard gave San Antonio a 10-point lead with just over a minute remaining and effectively iced the game.
With two days in between now and Sunday’s Game 2, the air conditioning will dominate the talk. League officials said after Thursday’s game that they expect the situation to be remedied in time for Sunday, and it’s hard to imagine that won’t be the case. The rising temperature was a dominant storyline in this contest, but it wasn’t the only one, and it surely wasn’t the reason San Antonio was triumphant.
The heat knocked LeBron out of Game 1, but he wasn’t the only one who had to deal with its effects. The Spurs battled through it like the rest of Miami’s roster and came out with a 1-0 series lead. The conditions weren’t favorable for a championship-level basketball game on Thursday night, but it’s nothing the Spurs haven’t felt before.