SAN ANTONIO — Danny Ainge watched Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night and listened to announcers discuss the excessive heat inside the AT&T Center, which caused Heat superstar LeBron James to leave the game late with cramps.
Ainge played in Game 5 of the 1984 NBA Finals, a 121-103 Celtics victory over the Lakers inside a sauna-like Boston Garden. And he smiles when he recalls the conspiracy theory that team president Red Auerbach instructed the arena maintenance staff to turn up the heat.
Ainge said it never happened.
“I actually did reflect on that game as I was watching,” the Celtics president of basketball operations said. “I remember being very hot. I remember the scuttlebutt about Red left the heat on or we didn’t have the air working in the Lakers locker room. But our locker room was toasty. I think our locker room was hotter than their locker room.
“It was a hot, humid day and that’s all I remember about it. I remember it was really easy to get a sweat going by just walking on the court.”
NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, who played eight seasons in the league, mentioned Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium as he addressed the media to discuss the arena conditions.
Ainge said the Garden wasn’t normally a hot building, but it was for that game, when temperature was sweltering outside.
“We never had those issues other than that one day,” he said. “I don’t remember it happening before or after.”
Ainge said he would never challenge James’s toughness for leaving the game.
“LeBron James is a great competitor and I just can’t imagine that he would not play a game that he could play,” Ainge said. “His competitiveness speaks for itself to me.”
Clearing the air
Spurs Sports & Entertainment released a statement Friday about the air conditioning system in AT&T Center, which malfunctioned during Game 1:
“The electrical failure that caused the AC system outage during Game 1 of the NBA Finals has been repaired. The AC system has been tested, is fully operational and will continue to be monitored. We apologize for the conditions in the arena during last night’s game.”
The two teams were forced to work out Friday at the Spurs’ practice facility because of a concert at the AT&T Center.
“It was definitely hotter than normal,” Spurs center Tim Duncan said. “We were all sweating a lot more than normal. We made it through. We did just fine. Couple of extra things happened there, we had some cold towels and drinking more water, but other than that we were able to play through it.”
Overshadowed by the sweltering conditions was the Spurs’ stellar fourth-quarter performance. San Antonio scored 36 points in the final period on 14-for-16 shooting, including 6-for-6 3-point accuracy. The Spurs didn’t miss a shot until the 6:49 mark, and their other miss was a Tony Parker errant layup with 1:49 left. The Spurs ended the game on a 20-5 run in the final 5:20. While the Heat know the outcome could have differed with James in the lineup, coach Erik Spoelstra also lamented his team’s fourth-quarter defense. “We pride ourselves in our defense, our fourth-quarter defense,” said Spoelstra. “If we would have been able to defend at our normal rate, regardless of the offense, we would have given ourselves a chance to win.” . . . James and the Spurs’ Boris Diaw and Patty Mills will participate in a 30-minute chat on Facebook Live on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Fans can submit questions via Facebook and Instagram . . . Game 1 drew a 9.0 national rating on ABC, up 2 percent from the 8.8 rating the Heat and Spurs had for Game 1 in last year’s NBA Finals. The 9.0 rating matched the second-highest NBA Finals opener since 2004.