SAN ANTONIO — Bostonians who remember those fond days of the NBA on CBS, you have seen this scene before: an arena that lacks air conditioning hosting the two best teams in the world while they exchange haymakers in the blistering heat.
It wasn’t Boston Garden, circa 1984, with Dick Stockton on the call for Celtics-Lakers. It was the AT&T Center 2014, and while the arena was filled with flawless wireless Internet, a power outage turned the venue into a 750,000-square-foot oven, with fans, players, and media members fanning themselves with little relief.
The arena conditions were the story line in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and perhaps the sweltering heat caused four-time MVP LeBron James to cramp so badly that he had to leave the game with just 3:59 left. The Spurs then went on a stirring run and pulled away with a 110-95 victory over the Miami Heat.
The air conditioning in the arena malfunctioned during the first quarter and the temperature inside soared to 90 degrees, causing an uncomfortable atmosphere for the sport’s premier game. The Spurs were able to overcome the conditions, outscoring the Heat, 36-17, in the final period as James labored on the bench with cramps.
San Antonio was the better team as the heat took its toll, hitting a stunning 14 of 16 shots in the final quarter and all six of its 3-pointers. The Spurs ended the game on a 31-9 run; it was 16-3 after James crumbled to the floor following a layup.
“I was going to try to give it a go and [coach Erik Spoelstra] said no,” James said to a pool reporter. “It [stinks] at this point in time in the season. You know, after I made that layup and we was down 2, and as well as they played, we still had a chance. And it was frustrating sitting out and not being to help our team.
“It’s frustration and anger. It was the whole left leg, damn near the whole left side. I was losing a lot throughout the game.”
Five Spurs scored in double figures, including Tim Duncan with 21 points in 33 minutes. Tony Parker, nursing a sore left ankle, added 19 points and eight assists. James led the Heat with 25 points in 33 minutes, while Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade combined for 35 points.
Without James, the Heat looked flustered in the final 3:54, scoring just 3 points on a long-range shot from Mario Chalmers. Meanwhile, Danny Green, who missed his first five shots, hit his final four and scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Spurs took a 1-0 series lead.
The story line following the game was hardly the Spurs’ run. It was the conditions that resembled an AAU game in some antiquated gym.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played in anything like this since I left the [Virgin] Islands,” Duncan said. “It was pretty bad out there. It definitely affected both teams. It got to a couple of different guys and cramps started setting in.”
San Antonio won despite committing 23 turnovers, including nine in the third quarter when they trailed by as many as 6.
The Heat went on an 18-6 run over the first half of the third quarter for a 67-64 lead. James capped that run with a turnaround 3-pointer after grabbing a loose ball, a shot that swished despite James not looking at the rim.
Miami then used a rare flash of athleticism from Allen, who scored 6 consecutive points at the rim, the final 2 on a coast-to-coast dunk that stunned the sweat-laden crowd that was screaming for better execution from the home team.
With Duncan on the bench for most of the quarter, the Spurs’ offense suffered, relegated to whipping the ball around the perimeter for an open 3-pointer. They lacked any interior threats.
After James canned a 3-pointer for a 78-72 Miami lead with 8.3 seconds left, Parker ended the period with a streaking layup, but the Spurs played perhaps their worst quarter of basketball since Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City.
The teams mirrored each other in the first half, taking turns with scoring flurries as well as offensive ineptitude. They combined for 19 turnovers, 12 3-pointers, and 17 personal fouls in the first 24 minutes.
Miami, in its fourth consecutive NBA Finals, didn’t flinch despite trailing by as many as 7 in the first half. After Parker drained a jumper for a 36-30 lead, Miami countered with the niftiness of Wade, who sparkled with a pair of runners while Chris Bosh drained a 3-pointer from the side for a 38-36 lead at the 6:47 mark.
Just as they did last season, the teams spent the first 24 minutes exchanging haymakers, hinting at what could be another thrilling series. Allen, who went scoreless in the first quarter, countered with 10 in the second as the Heat converted 55 percent of their shots and climbed to within 51-49 after a sparkling dunk off the dribble from the 6-feet-11-inch Bosh.
The final two quarters were overshadowed by the conditions, making this one of the more memorable games in NBA Finals history and a throwback for Celtics fans.
“I mean, yeah, but not in the Finals,” Wade said when asked if he had played in these conditions before. “But we all have. If you played basketball, you play where it’s hot like this. I think everybody has done it before. But I’m sure it will be a lot better Sunday. Yeah, it will be a lot better.”