LeBron James, Heat ready to even score
SAN ANTONIO — The only certainty derived from Game 1 of the NBA Finals was the final score.
The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat, 110-95, with a furious fourth-quarter rally at AT&T Center, which was a blistering 90 degrees because of a malfunctioning air conditioning system.
Those are facts, leaving many uncertainties for both teams heading into Game 2 Sunday night.
How much will LeBron James play after leaving Game 1 with cramps? Will AT&T Center actually return to optimal conditions? How much did the heat have to do with the Heat's fourth-quarter collapse? And what happens when the Spurs don't hit 14 of 16 shots in the fourth quarter, as they did in the opening game?
It seems that the Heat are no less confident and Spurs no more confident following Game 1 because of the circumstances. James, the best player in the NBA, was felled with constant leg cramps in the second half. The Spurs went on an improbable offensive surge to respond from a 7-point deficit in the final period, and it's unlikely those things will occur again in Game 2.
James has been undergoing treatment for cramps and dehydration over the past two days and vows to be ready Sunday night. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he will determine James's minutes depending on the game circumstances, but both James and Dwyane Wade commented Saturday that perhaps a deeper bench would help alleviate fatigue.
Five Miami players logged 30 or more minutes in the Game 1 sauna, while Toney Douglas, Udonis Haslem, and James Jones did not play.
"Every game is different. Obviously we could have used that in Game 1," James said of a deeper rotation. "I thought at times maybe Toney, JJ, UD, could have gotten some minutes. Take the load off some of us, but each game is different.
"Spo is going to coach the game the way he sees the game going and flowing, and we're definitely going to ride with that — the way he calls the game. Thursday's game was extreme measures. And I don't expect that tomorrow night, but we'll see."
What's bizarre is that neither club has been in AT&T Center since the end of Game 1. There was a concert in the venue Friday and a WNBA game Saturday, forcing both teams to work out at the Spurs' practice facility.
Spoelstra said he doesn't expect anything besides normal game conditions Sunday.
"It will be fine," he said. "We've been assured of that."
The Spurs, meanwhile, came away from Game 1 feeling relieved they were able to convert shots in the fourth quarter and fortunate to win the game despite 22 turnovers — nine in the third quarter. Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, neither of whom are distributors, combined for nine turnovers, many of them unforced.
"We need to have the pace and we know Miami is a great defensive team and they have a great rotation," Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "They're fast, but if we do the first easy pass and move the ball at the end, you know, I think we will get good shots. If we try to force it too much against that team, it's very dangerous, because then it's fast breaks and they get confidence and get easy baskets."
The biggest question that will be answered likely in the early stages of Game 2 is the health and status of James, who still led the Heat with 25 points in 33 minutes despite his cramping issues. The Heat have never fallen behind, 2-0, in any playoff series since James joined the club in 2010-11.
A loss Sunday would put them in that situation. James said he will treat Game 2 as if it were a Game 7.
"So you have to try to put your mind at a mind-set and for me I did in Game 1 — and for me the tank was empty and I used the reserve tank until my body couldn't go no more," he said. "I'm going to try to do the same thing on [Sunday]. Obviously I don't want to go too far running my tank out. I want to be able to finish the game but you have to have that mind-set, there is no tomorrow. It's challenging, but for a championship you don't want it easy."
Wade said the Heat's Game 1 loss had nothing to do with the arena conditions but rather a lack of execution in crucial moments. Miami has won its past 12 playoff games following a loss.
"It was two teams out there. They had to deal with the same conditions we had to deal with," said Wade. "You know, what makes a loss painful is when you have an opportunity to win. We were up 7 in the fourth. We're a team who closes games out and we wasn't able to do that for whatever the reason may be. We didn't do that.
"That right there is what makes that loss more painful but that's the thing that makes you focus and come back for the next one. We're not uptight, we're not overly loose. We're focused to come back and win the next one."