The highly anticipated redemption of the San Antonio Spurs began Thursday night as the NBA Finals kicked off in Texas. It was the Spurs moment of truth. Could they avenge their heartbreak? Would Ducan win his 5th ring? Would Lebron James join Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as three-peat champions? Neither the Spurs nor the Miami Heat could have planned for the electrical failure that disabled the air conditioning unit in the arena. With the temperature inside the arena nearing triple digits the game’s beginning unfolded exactly as the Spurs hoped. Their style of play which creates matchup difficulties for every NBA team was on center stage. Here’s what they did: they passed the ball from side to side, they drove in the lane and dished out to the perimeter, they weaved and rotated, they rebounded and finished in the lane, they were unselfish, they made threes, their bench was productive. They were exactly who we thought they were. They were the San Antonio Spurs 2013-14.
Every once in a while the Spurs efficiency was hindered by Miami whose quick hands interrupted passes and forced turnovers creating fast break points. But the veteran Spurs didn’t panic nor did they alter their game plan. Tim Duncan, guarded by Chris Bosh, missed one shot and it felt as Manu Ginobli would not miss either. In the first half the Heat struggled getting to the perimeter shooters of the Spurs and Manu Ginobli and Paddy Mills and Marco Bellinelli took advantage. But this is what the Spurs remember, this makes them cautious regardless of how easy it seems. Even as they were able to do what they have done all season, their efficiency did not hinder the Miami Heat’s big 3. Dwayne Wade was spectacular in the paint demonstrating footwork and an agility he hasn’t had in awhile. Chris Bosh was efficient from the three forcing the Spurs big guys to guard him on the perimeter. Ray Allen cut away from Danny Green and made threes though he missed several as the first half was ending. Lebron James was efficient and pacing himself as no one on the Spurs was a threat, not Kawhil Leonard, not Boris Diaw. The biggest lead the Spurs were able to amass was 8 points but the game felt much closer as the Spurs were unable to pull away even as Manu Ginobli had his best first quarter in his NBA Finals career, and Tony Parker was fluid on his compromised ankle and Tim Duncan had no defender able to affect his offense. The Spurs could not do to the Heat what they did to the Thunder. At the half they had a 5 point lead.
In the third quarter Lebron James and Dwayne Wade demonstrated why, when healthy and clicking, they are the most formidable duo in the league. Both took advantage of the Spurs inability to guard them in the lane. Rashard Lewis, who started at power forward, made big threes to give the Heat a lead. But halfway through the quarter Lebron and Bosh both left the game with heat exhaustion and were on the bench with icebags on their neck. The Spurs, not surprisingly took the lead but it was just a 2 point game in the last three minutes.
The last two minutes of the third quarter the Spurs were sloppy. A Ray Allen steal finished with a dunk. The Spurs had an over and back turnover. Marco Belinelli threw the ball away. At this point everyone was fatigued by the conditions in the arena. Miami had a four point lead going into the 4th quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Chris Bosh’s four point play extended the Heat’s lead and it looked as if they Heat were going to win game one. But as the game continued, the effects of the warmth in the arena which created dehydration wore down Lebron James. He asked to be taken out with the Heat up by 4 and eight minutes left in the game. Two Danny Green three’s, when he was unguarded, gave the Spurs a 2 point lead. A Danny Green dunk gave the Spurs a 4 point lead with 4 minutes left. Lebron James cramped badly, came back in, made a layup and then could not move. He was carried to the bench, unable to walk. Danny Green hit another three. The lead was 7. Then 9. Without Lebron James the Heat were without a ball handler and leader and defender and scorer…and everything. Spurs 110, Miami 95.