Heat or heat? Spurs beat both to claim Game 1 of Finals
SAN ANTONIO -- One year later, Danny Green has not cooled. In a span of two minutes and 18 seconds in the fourth quarter Thursday, Green scored 11 points with three threes, taking the Spurs from down a point in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals to up five. But Green, who scorched the Heat for a Finals record 27 threes last June, was hardly alone. San Antonio ran up an astounding 36 fourth-quarter points against Miami's depleted unit. In a game that will be remembered as much for the heat as the Heat, LeBron James (25 points) was relegated to the bench with cramps midway through the fourth quarter, and the deeper Spurs pulled away for a 110-95 win.
Here are my quick thoughts off Game 1:
HIGH HEAT: Bringing back memories of the Lakers and the Celtics at a sweltering Boston Garden, the air conditioning malfunctioned at AT&T Center due to an electrical outage, leaving the Spurs and the Heat to play in what amounted to a cavernous steam room. If you're looking for a conspiracy theory, you can at least start with a motive. The Spurs' bench is far superior to the Heat's, and the Spurs' stars play far fewer minutes than the Heat's do. Also, James has a history of cramping in warm arenas, as he did at home in the 2012 Finals. James wore ice packs on the back of his neck during stoppages to stay cool and was forced to the bench in the fourth quarter with the predictable case of cramps. He tried to return, and made a driving layup, but had to be carried off the floor when the cramps returned. The fresher Spurs, enjoying the benefits of rest, pulled away late in the fourth quarter.
SPURS SLIPPAGE: Through the first three quarters, the high temperatures diminished the Spurs as much as the Heat. San Antonio was uncharacteristically sloppy, committing 22 turnovers, and the Miami defense remained active, hopping in passing lanes for steals and easy transition baskets. The Heat's swarming D, absent for long stretches of the regular season and even portions of the playoffs, was revved up to a feverish level that matched the conditions. But they could not sustain the high pitch.
PARKER OK: After sitting out the second half of Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Tony Parker clearly recovered in time to start the Finals at full strength, or close to it. Like last June, Parker was able to consistently beat Miami point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole off the dribble, collapsing the Heat defense and creating shots for himself and his teammates. Parker's ability to drive and kick helped the Spurs pile up 13 three-pointers, another flashback to last year's Finals, when they sank a record 53 threes. Their pace slowed late in the series, when Parker's hamstring injury resurfaced, and again the question remains if he can continue at this pace.
DIFFERENT LOOK: The Spurs bothered James in last year's Finals by playing off him and daring him to shoot mid-range jumpers. The plan worked for about 5 1/2 games, as James hesitated and misfired, but late in Game 6 and throughout Game 7, he burned the sagging defense. The Spurs came out more aggressive against James, and Kawhi Leonard was quick enough to stay in front of him on most occasions. But when Leonard went to the bench, and Boris Diaw replaced him, James was able to consistently blow past Diaw until the cramps came.
VINTAGE FORM: The 2013 Finals were a classic, except in one regard: Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili, two of the most dynamic performers of their generation, often appeared to be offensive liabilities. The Heat and the Spurs were reduced to Big Twos. But Wade and Ginobili have both flourished this post-season and their momentum did not wane in Game 1. Wade and Ginobili combined for 35 points, prompting hope for an even more riveting Finals.
SIDELINED STOPPERS: Arguably the two most important defenders in this series are Chalmers, assigned to Parker, and Leonard, opposite James. Leonard left early in the third quarter with his third foul and Chalmers followed him shortly afterward with his fourth. Chalmers returned to start the fourth quarter but picked up his fifth foul after less than a minute. Leonard logged 24 minutes, but Chalmers only 17, and both were non-factors offensively. [video:]
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