It's fitting that the NBA Finals switched to a 2-2-1-1-1 format for the first time since 1984, as the AT&T Center's air conditioning malfunction made for sweltering Game 1 conditions that resembled the old Boston Garden. Consequently, LeBron James' severe cramping and fourth-quarter absence have taken top headlines after Thursday night's stunning events.
Despite the 15-point margin of victory, the San Antonio Spurs did accomplish much of their work in the absence of LeBron, erasing the Miami Heat's seven-point fourth-quarter lead. Nevertheless, it appears the oddsmakers have continued to side with the Spurs as the favorite, per Odds Shark:
|San Antonio Spurs||-4.5|
via Odds Shark as of June 7, 1 PM ET
So what should NBA fans watch for in Game 2? Here are a few early keys, along with full TV information for the rest of the series.
|Game||Location||Date||Time (ET)||TV Station|
|2||San Antonio||Sunday, June 8||8 p.m.||ABC|
|3||Miami||Tuesday, June 10||9 p.m.||ABC|
|4||Miami||Thursday, June 12||9 p.m.||ABC|
|5 (if necessary)||San Antonio||Sunday, June 15||8 p.m.||ABC|
|6 (if necessary)||Miami||Tuesday, June 17||9 p.m.||ABC|
|7 (if necessary)||San Antonio||Friday, June 20||9 p.m.||ABC|
Miami Heat: Tighten up
Blame LeBron's cramps all you want, but the Heat's defense totally disappeared in the fourth quarter, allowing the Spurs to shoot a remarkable 14-of-16 from the field. Indeed, for the majority of the night, Miami's defense was an all-or-nothing proposition:
Heat playing VCU-style defense. 23 TOs forced and 2.87 PPP allowed on non-TO poss.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) June 6, 2014
That's a stark departure from the Heat's typically relentless defensive reputation, though the arena conditions certainly appeared to take their toll on the players. Nevertheless, the major matchup storyline was how Miami's defense couldn't stop San Antonio's uber-efficient offense. NBA.com's Jon Schumann suggested before the series that the Heat could struggle containing the perimeter, a notion that manifested itself in Game 1:
The numbers show that the Heat’s biggest issues in the playoffs have been on the perimeter. From outside the paint, their opponents have an effective field-goal percentage of 51.5 percent, highest in the postseason. Spurs playoff opponents, in comparison, have had an effective field-goal percentage of only 43.7 percent from outside the paint in the playoffs.
The Heat were more aggressive in closing out on three-point shooters in the second half but had essentially waved the white flag by the end of the game. Consequently, San Antonio did not miss on any of its six fourth-quarter three-point attempts.
With the AT&T Center likely to house much cooler conditions Sunday night, Miami will not have an excuse for lack of effort. The Heat have built their championship foundation upon stifling defense, a tenet they must recapture to avoid a 2-0 hole.
San Antonio Spurs: Cut Down the Turnovers
As dominant as the Spurs were in the fourth quarter, they were also equally fortunate to win after committing 22 turnovers, many of the head-shaking variety. Against a team like Miami that normally thrives in transition, San Antonio's win was truly a historic rarity:
Spurs had 22 turnovers in their Gm 1 victory, the most a winning team has had in an NBA Finals game in at least 28 yrs, per BBall Reference— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) June 6, 2014
In fairness, the Spurs significantly improved their execution in the final frame and were closing the gap before LeBron's cramps propelled them past the finish line. Still, San Antonio left itself vulnerable to defeat with arguably its sloppiest three quarters of the postseason, even as it held the lead the majority of the game.
At the same time, the fourth quarter illustrated what the Spurs are capable of, and many favor them over the two-time defending champions. As CBS Sports' Matt Moore relays, Danny Green believes that familiarity may have been San Antonio's enemy in Game 1:
Green admitted after the game that could be influenced by the two teams having played one another so often.
"Possibly that had something to do wit it, but also being careless with the ball and not finding the right people. You know they're a good defensive team, they're long and athletic. We got lucky tonight. we can't turn the ball over 23 times and expect to win."
The Spurs saved themselves with timely shooting and excellent passing, as 30 of their 40 baskets on the night were assisted. So long as Tony Parker's ankle holds up, San Antonio should continue to employ steady ball-handling to thwart off Miami's defense.
But the margin for error is thin, and the desperate Heat will surely crank up their pressure defense to rare levels in Game 2. For San Antonio to hold serve on its home court, the fourth quarter from Game 1 will need to resemble every quarter Sunday night.