Thanks to a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs hadn't played a second of playoff basketball since back on May 27. The rest vs. rust debate took over the basketball landscape like nature vs. nurture talks at a psychology convention.
San Antonio did look a bit rusty in the championship series opener, shooting just 41.7 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from deep. Not only that, but the typically pass-happy team tallied only 16 assists on 35 made field goals.
Both teams were in a fight over the first 36 minutes of the contest, and the Heat entered the fourth quarter nursing a 72-69 advantage. As the seconds ticked down over that final period, though, Miami struggled to match San Antonio's energy, and James said that's when the Spurs' additional rest took over:
LeBron James: "They looked like they were rested in the fourth quarter and they took advantage of it.''— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) June 7, 2013
The Spurs owned the quarter by a 23-16 margin, thanks in no small part to Tony Parker's 10 points in the period. Wade said his team tried dipping into its energy reserves, but it became clear that there was nothing left:
Dwyane Wade on Spurs: "I thought we were fatigued in the fourth quarter. We looked like a team coming off a seven-game series."— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) June 7, 2013
If fatigue truly caused Miami's lackluster effort, then the Indiana Pacers can take credit for that. Led by a ferocious frontline of Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George, the Pacers physically punished the Heat for a full seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
James, often matched up against budding superstar George in the last round, admitted that even the greatest player on the planet needs a break every now and then:
LeBron James on sitting out start of fourth to Spoelstra: "I told him I needed one... I needed a little breather.''— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) June 7, 2013
If James' words weren't convincing enough, then his uncharacteristic lack of aggression spoke volumes. His stat line sounds like he was as dominant as ever (18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists), but he took just 16 shots in 42 minutes, the same number that Chris Bosh hoisted in 35 minutes of action.
James asked for that reprieve and got it in the form of two minutes and 59 seconds of bench time to start the fourth quarter. With the King on the sidelines, Miami shot just 2-of-6 from the field (both makes coming from Chris Andersen) and committed a turnover.
The Heat managed to tread water in his absence, but some felt that Erik Spoelstra had failed to capitalize on the opportunity to stretch Miami's lead. But James wasn't going to let his coach get thrown under the bus and admitted that he was the one who made that call:
LeBron acknowledges that he asked for the rest to start the 4th, after playing an up-and-down 3rd quarter. So that ends that.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 7, 2013
If fatigue was as big of a factor as James and Wade claimed, then Spoelstra really has his work cut out for him. Surely he saw some adjustments that need to be made, but he'll have a hard time implementing them and buying his team some rest before these two clubs clash again on Sunday night.