At the Buzzer

San Antonio Spurs take the air out of LeBron James, Miami Heat in the second half

 
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 <span class="cutline_leadin">Abbreviated action:</span> The Heat’s LeBron James, left, gets past the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter in the first quarter of Thursday’s game. James exited the game late in the fourth quarter after experiencing a leg cramp.
Abbreviated action: The Heat’s LeBron James, left, gets past the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter in the first quarter of Thursday’s game. James exited the game late in the fourth quarter after experiencing a leg cramp.
Al Diaz / Staff Photo

bjackson@ MiamiHerald.com

Observations from Game 1 of the NBA Finals:

• This was a rare snapshot: A pained, frustrated LeBron James sitting helplessly on the bench, unable to play the game’s most meaningful moments because of cramping after toiling in oppressive heat caused by a malfunctioning air conditioning.

James managed just five fourth-quarter minutes, and his teammates couldn’t muster enough without him, buried under a tsunami of Spurs three-pointers.

LeBron, who spoke to a pool reporter instead of the general media, said the cramps were "a 10 out of 10."

Bottom line: The Heat was outscored, 33-12, in the second half during the time when LeBron wasn’t on the floor.

• Here's what LeBron said afterward to a pool reporter (he did not speak to the general media): "I'm feeling better than I did when I came off the floor.... I was going to give it a go [late in the fourth] and Spo said no. It sucks at this point in time in the season. After I made that layup [with 4:33 left], we were down two, as well as they played, we still had a chance. After I came out of the game, they kind of took off. And it was frustrating sitting out and not be able to help our team."

James said he felt "frustration and anger, but at the same time, it's something you try to prevent, you try to control. I got all the fluids I need to get. I do my normal routine I've done and it was inevitable for me tonight, throughout the conditions on the floor. I lost all the fluids that I was putting in the last couple of days out there on the floor. It sucks not being out there for your team, especially at this point of the season."

How much pain was he in when his legs buckled? "The best option for me to do was not to move. I tried and any little step or nudge, it would get worse. It would lock up worse and my muscles spasmed 10 out of 10. Best thing for me to do was just not to move."

Was it just the left leg or more to it? "No, it was the whole left leg, damn near the whole left side. I was losing a lot throughout the game. It was extremely hot in the building. Everybody could feel it. I was the one that had to take the shot."

Asked what he tried to do at halftime, LeBron said: "Drank a lot at halftime, even changed my uniform, just tried to get the sweat up off of you. Our training staff tried to do the best they could by giving us ice bags and cold towels on timeouts, keep us dry. I never played in a building like that. It's been a while, like high school game. But... it's no discredit to what they did. They played extremely well. They had 30 assists (to the Heat's 16)."

How thankful is he to have a few days before Game 2 on Sunday? "I need it. I need it. We're going to start tonight, continue to get the fluids in me and get me ready for Sunday. Look forward to Game 2."

• Outscored 36-17 in the fourth, the Heat ultimately was undone not only by James’ absence but deficient pick-and-roll defense and an inability to defend the three in the fourth quarter, when the Spurs shot six for six from beyond the arc, with Danny Green making three and Kawhi Leonard two.

The Spurs shot an absurd 58.8 percent for the game and an unreal 14 for 16 in the fourth.

"Maybe one of those six threes was well defended,” Chris Bosh said.

The Heat had to figure that Green, who plays exceptionally at home, would eventually come alive after shooting 0 for 5 through three quarters. Green, who hit 27 three-pointers in last year’s Finals, scored 11 in the fourth.

• But until fatigue set in and cramping began, this was encouraging: James attacked the basket far more forcefully and frequently than he did in last year’s Finals. So did Dwyane Wade, for that matter.

James took nine of his first 12 shots within 10 feet of the basket, Wade eight of his first 10, with many in the basket area.

That was a dramatic change from last year’s Finals, when James took only 46 percent of his shots within 10 feet and Wade 43 percent. And it was more like their regular-season metrics, when James took 61 percent of his shots within that range and Wade 69.

But both started settling for jumpers as the second half progressed, likely a function of exhaustion from playing in 90-degree temperatures.

James (25 points, 9-for-17 shooting) missed three jumpers in a row before leaving with what appeared to be cramping with 7:36 left in the fourth. The Heat led by two when he exited.

He returned with 4:33 left and drove for a layup that pulled the Heat to within 94-92 but immediately left again with more cramping, this time for good.

“It felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limping to the bench,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Instead of giving James a sizable cushion, as they did last year, the Spurs played more tightly against him, and James seized on that strategy for the game’s first 30 minutes before cramping short-circuited his night.

Wade (19 points, 8 for 18) missed his first two shots on 14- and 18-foot jumpers, then changed his approach. His next eight shots were within 10 feet of the basket, most of them layups or floaters or nifty spin moves, and he made six. But he hit just 3 of 10 shots in the second half, operating more from the perimeter than the paint.

• Outscored 36-17 in the fourth, the Heat ultimately was undone not only by James’ absence but also deficient pick-and-roll defense and an inability to defend the three in the fourth quarter, when the Spurs shot 6 for 6 from beyond the arc, with Danny Green making three and Kawhi Leonard two.

The Heat had to figure that Green, who plays exceptionally at home, would eventually come alive after shooting 0 for 5 through three quarters. Green, who hit 27 three-pointers in last year’s series, scored 11 in the fourth.

• Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, on the electrical problems that caused the air conditioning malfunction: “Hopefully, we can pay our bills.”

• Yes, that was 38-year-old Ray Allen dunking ferociously in transition — even more notable considering Allen had only nine dunks in two years with the Heat.

• The Spurs’ Boris Diaw remains capable of affecting the game even without scoring much. He shot only 1 for 5 in Game 1 but had 10 rebounds, and the Spurs outscored the Heat by 30 points with Diaw in the game.

• Mario Chalmers — who had 18 turnovers and 15 assists in last year’s Finals — needs to give the Heat more than this. Limited to 17 minutes by foul trouble, he had more turnovers (five) than points (three) and assists (one) combined.

• Most amusing moment from Game 1: James telling Duncan: “I just gave the media something to talk about because they didn’t have nothing else to talk about.” That was in reference to Duncan saying the Spurs would win the series this year, and James then saying that the Spurs dislike the Heat.

• Second-most amusing moment from Game 2: Touched minimally by James, Tiago Splitter falling to the floor as if he had been shot by a sniper. But at least the officials changed it from a flagrant to a common foul.

• Most mindless moment of Game 1: The Heat committing a five-second violation in the second quarter, when nobody bothered staying in the backcourt to take the inbounds pass.

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