Even before the game started, people in the arena were complaining about the heat. But at that point, Tony Parker's ankles were the bigger story. Parker didn't look fully recovered, but he seemed to be moving with more fluidity than against the Thunder and was essential early on for the offense, as the Spurs had a hard time scoring with both Duncan and Splitter on the court. Once Ginobili and Diaw checked in, however, those offensive problems disappeared. Ginobili was phenomenal in the first, as his stat line of nine points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in slightly over seven minutes of action attests.
With Duncan also looking great early on, the Spurs' stars countered the attack of Wade, Bosh and James, who combined for 18 of the Heat's 20 first quarter points. With both teams playing solid D, it was the faster pace the Spurs established as well as their accuracy from outside that allowed them to go into the second quarter up six, 26-20.
The Spurs tried some funky lineups to start the second quarter, with Mills and Parker together, possibly in an attempt to get better ball handlers on the court and limit TOs. But the experiment was short lived because of the defensive limitations of that back court, and the turnovers that plagued the Spurs in the first quarter inevitably returned. Miami suffered from similar problems taking care of the ball, but managed to snap out of their funk earlier and made a run to regain the lead. Fortunately, as the quarter drew to a close, Parker, Diaw and Ginobili started attacking again without making poor decisions and the Spurs ended up scoring 28 points to offset the Heat's 29. Going into the break, the Spurs were up five, 54-49.
At this point, the reports from the arena were that the temperature continued to rise and it showed on the court. San Antonio's offense was stuck in mud at the start of the third. Leonard and Green actually stretched the lead to nine, but immediately after that, the Heat went on an 8-0 run and practically erased it. With Leonard committing an early third foul, Pop brought in Diaw and Belinelli sooner than they would have normally checked in. Despite the defensive problems the substitution created, the offensive surge made up for it. With 2:50 to go, the game was tied at 69.
That's when four consecutive turnovers from the Spurs allowed the Heat to go on a 6-0 run and take the lead. The Spurs' inability to take care of the ball certainly helped fuel the Heat's offense (nine fast break points in the frame), but Miami simply looked fresher and put together a dominant offensive quarter. A Splitter reverse layup with the time running out cut the deficit to four going into the final period, 78-74.
The temperature seemed to have finally reached unbearable levels as the fourth quarter started. San Antonio had been sloppy all game long, going into the fourth with 19 TOs. Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Boris Diaw weren't hitting shots. Belinelli was, but defensively he hurt the team. It seemed that for San Antonio to have a shot, the Big Three were going to have to use a lot of energy, first cutting the lead and then pulling ahead. It wasn't looking good.
But Tiago Splitter emerged as the unlikely hero the Spurs needed to stay in the game. Ginobili found Splitter rolling to the hoop twice and Tiago connected and even drew the foul the second time. Counting the end of the third quarter, Splitter scored nine straight at a time when the team desperately needed that extra offensive punch from a role player. When he sat with 10:44 to go, the deficit was a single point.
So Manu and Tiago made it a close game, but the Spurs still needed to win it. As soon as Splitter sat, Bosh went on a 6-0 run by himself and pushed the lead to seven, making the Spurs look tired in the process.
That would be the last time the Heat would score a field goal for the next 3:07 minutes. A combination of heady Spurs' defense and clear exhaustion on the part of some Heat players tipped the scales in favor of the Spurs. The Heat 's pressure defense was a step too slow and the Spurs were a bit sharper. San Antonio went on a 31 -9 run to close the game and get the win. But it's impossible to discuss that run without mentioning LeBron's inability to stay on the floor in those key minutes due to cramps.
James was having a fantastic performance up until 7:31 to go in the final quarter. The game was close then, with the Heat still leading by two. James signaled the bench to call for a timeout after a Duncan layup and sat down clearly in pain. After resting for a while, he checked back in as the Spurs were starting their run. With the Heat down four, he attacked Diaw off the dribble and scored, only to cramp up as soon as he landed. This time he couldn't really move, had to be carried to the bench and didn't return.
Would the result had been different with LeBron on the court? It's hard to say. On offense the Spurs simply stopped turning the ball over and Green caught fire. Then they hit timely shots despite looking as tired as Miami. At the same time, we are talking about the best player in the league and he had been a monster up until that point (25-6-3-3).
It's an interesting question but, frankly, I truly believe that it doesn't really matter to the Spurs, as Duncan said in his post-game interview. In every series there are situations beyond the players' control and the teams have to play through them. This time, the Spurs caught a break and took full advantage of it to start the series with a 1-0 lead.
- The Spurs released a statement saying that the AC was out due to an electrical problem. Hopefully, it's something that can be fixed before game 2 or it should be postponed. The heat was clearly affecting everyone.
- Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter were, in the eyes of many fans, the villains of last year's finals. Their new contracts were scrutinized relentlessly. Not even the most optimistic Tiago supporter believed he could be impactful against Miami and nobody knows what version of Manu will show up in any given series. It's too early to dispel all fears, but they were fantastic in game one. Manu had a double-double with 16 points and 11 assists (plus five boards and three steals) and Tiago scored 14 points in six shots and overcame some early struggles.
- Tim Duncan went 9-10 from the floor for 21 points. He also had ten rebounds. What more can be said? I ran out of words to praise Timmy long ago.
- Tony Parker had 10 points and eight assists but, more impressively, went 2-2 on three pointers, including a dagger late in the fourth. Hopefully, the two days off between games 1 and 2 will help his ankle get even healthier.
- Belinelli and Mills hit shots, but the defense suffered when they were on the court. Diaw, on the other hand, scored only two points, but was key to attacking the scrambling Heat defense after it rotated and was solid on the boards and on D, for the most part. The Spurs will need these three to keep playing their roles like they did in game 1 to beat Miami.
- Going into the fourth quarter, Leonard and Green had combined for 1-8 from the field with no three pointers. In the fourth, they combined for 18 points in six shots. Green was instrumental in the beginning of the Spurs' run and Kawhi helped ice the game. The Spurs need them to be more consistent, but at least for tonight, I'm happy with their timely offensive explosion.
Game 2 will be played on Sunday in a hopefully air-conditioned AT&T Center in San Antonio.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at Hot Hot Hoops, but remember to be nice.