San Antonio's Revenge, Segment A
(originally written 6/20/14)
The Heat visited San Antonio's AT&T Center to open the 2014 NBA Finals...and so did Mami's professional basketball team.
(Not the best play on words ever. So be it—I'm trying to focus on the game. Besides, ESPN's clever crew probably beat me to all the best heat-related puns.)
It was a scorcher in San Antonio, Texas on this June 5 evening. Temps remained well into the 80's at this game's 8:00 CST tipoff. At some point early in the game, the building's air conditioning gave out. Eventually, the indoor temp climbed over 90 degrees. "They tryin' to smoke us outta here!" LeBron James warned his teammates, only partially facetious. Both coaches adjusted, giving their stars quicker and lengthier rests.
As a Warriors fan who's (sadly) grown accustomed to the Spurs methodically slicing my team up like a grapefruit time and time again during the Duncan era, it was an experience witnessing the Spurs repeatedly cough up the basketball—that's simply not Spurs basketball. At one point San Antonio turned over three of four possessions. Announcers wondered if moisture brought about by the high temps played a role.
Miami's defense, which can swallow up an offense whole when clicking, did force the Spurs into tough angles and greater degrees of difficulty entering the ball inside. That said, Tony Parker and crew tried to many times to make the extra pass—yes, they were nearly done in by unselfishness. The Spurs turned the rock over nine times in the third quarter alone; that has to be a Popovich-era record (not up for doing the research at this time.)
Given that level of carelessness, Miami could (and frankly should) have gone up by 20. Most of the Spur turnovers were of the "live ball" variety—you know, the kind that key an opponent's fast break. All turnovers hurt, but those leading to breakaway dunks do a lot more visceral damage than those leading to a simple change of possession (i.e. offensive foul, out-of-bounds, traveling).
Armed with three of the best finishers in the game, along with two of the best range bombers of all-time, Miami still could not fully capitalize on their good fortune (partly due to 17 turnovers of their own), although they were beginning to separate when LeBron James got hurt.
LeBron. James. Got. Hurt.
I don't think I've ever uttered those four words consecutively, ever.
There is a joke in there somewhere about LBJ not seeking another term (on the court); I'd tell it if I felt most of my audience knew who the original LBJ was and would get the 45-year-old reference.
Though not dominating, James was playing well up until falling victim to a series of agonizing leg cramps. On one third-quarter play, he put Miami back ahead after fielding an offensive rebound and burying a stepback fadeaway J...from the left corner. And on what would be his final play of the night, he came off the bench just long enough to take a capable defender in Boris Diaw to the hole before immediately locking up again.
(Side note: until he rose to assist James Jones in aiding LeBron to the bench, I'd forgotten ex-Warrior Toney Douglas was with Miami. That would-be assist turned out to be all the Finals action he'd see.) There would be no Paul Pierce wheelchair-esque uprising for the seemingly invincible King James.