Welcome to the NBA Finals, LeBron James. The Spurs gave the Cavs superstar a rude welcome to championship basketball Thursday night, smothering him with a total team defensive effort en route to an 85-76 victory in Game 1. Bruce Bowen and the rest of the San Antonio team defense just never let James get loose. Looking into white Spurs jerseys all night, the King missed nine of his first 10 shots and wound up with just 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting. "I didn't play extremely well, definitely," James said. How frustrating a night was it for the Cavs star? At one point, he spun away from Bowen to attempt a turnaround jumper only to have the 7-foot Tim Duncan send the ball back into his face. Another time he threw a pass off the side of the backboard. By the end of the third quarter, LeBron had reason to be chewing those fingernails. "He struggled mightily tonight," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "[The Spurs] did a great job. They closed down the paint. When we tried to play pick-and-roll they brought a big guy. They did a great job containing him." Meanwhile the Spurs got the usual offensive fireworks from their Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Parker, in particular, was unstoppable at getting in the lane for easy baskets. Every time the Cavs seemed to get it close, the little Frenchman darted inside for an easy basket. San Antonio also outrebounded Cleveland 43-32, preventing the Cavs from getting those second-chance points they need to survive. All in all, it was a dominating performance for the Spurs -- and a learning experience for the Cavs and their superstar.
Good effort all around. Ginobili joined Duncan and Parker in carving up the Cavs' D, but the lethal lefty also picked up LeBron for key defensive stops and chipped in with eight boards. Meanwhile, Francisco Elson and Robert Horry helped shadow 'Bron while chipping in for a combined eight points.
Gregg Popovich, Coach
His game plan on 'Bron worked to perfection. He also protected Duncan from third foul by pulling him late in first half.
Rough Finals debut for the Chosen One. In addition to his errant shooting, he coughed up six turnovers. He did contribute seven boards, and hit a couple threes to spark a mini-rally in the fourth, but it was too late.
Shot the ball well, and showed some physical play by horse collaring Ginobili on a drive for a flagrant foul. But the fifth-year forward also had some defensive breakdowns and managed just four rebounds in 26 minutes.
Led by Gibson's team-high 16 points (on 7-for-9 shooting) and Anderson Varejao's 10 points and four rebounds, they held their own with their San Antonio counterparts. Gibson might well have played his way into a bigger role in Game 2.
Mike Brown, Coach
Couldn't get 'Bron untracked offensively, and might have stuck with Hughes too long, but the real test will be what adjustments he makes for Game 2.
Even though it was the biggest game of his career, James said he kept his usual routine. "Just like regular day. Went to shootaround, took a nap, came to the arena," he said. James said his mother and a couple friends were in attendance, but no other special guests. When asked what he was listening to on his headphones while warming up, he said, "Jay Z. All day. Every day." ... The AT&T Center was a sea of white, thanks to a promotion that gave all 18,797 fans T-shirts emblazoned with "Go Spurs Go" across the front ... With their fourth Finals in nine years, Spurs fans are getting a little blasé. The Spurs even failed to sell out a Western Conference finals opener last month, the first non sellout for playoff games in five-year history of AT&T Center ... Still, a couple thousand fans turned out for a pep rally for the Spurs on the Riverwalk on Wednesday afternoon, and there was the usual gushing on the news. The city stations even aired a segment on the Larry O'Brien trophy being unloaded from a plane at the airport. As part of the staged event, former Spurs legend George Gervin (above) directed the plane into the gate using those orange wands. LeBron only wishes the Spurs defense had been so accommodating.
Quote Of The Night
"It was definitely crowded. They did a great job of shrinking the floor. If I went by one guy, another guy stepped up. It's something I'm going to have to make an adjustment for in Game 2."
- LeBron James on the Spurs' defense and his dismal Finals debut.
The good news for the Cavs heading into Sunday's Game 2 (9 p.m. ET/ABC) is that LeBron can't possibly play that poorly again. Plus, Pavlovic and Gibson showed no signs of intimidation on the big stage. Throw in the fact that the Cavs were down only five points at the half, and that they cut a big Spurs lead to eight in the final minutes, and there is reason for Cleveland to keep the faith. But they're going to have to find a way to get LeBron untracked, and put the brakes on Parker.