Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs featured more than its fair share of madness, impacting Vegas' outlook on the rest of the series and reaffirming its must-see-TV status
The air conditioning failed in San Antonio, the Heat's lead evaporated and the Spurs caught fire in the fourth quarter en route to a 110-95 victory. But above all, this Finals opener will always be remembered as "The Cramp Game," with LeBron James forced to the bench late, grimacing helplessly as he watched the Spurs blitz his teammates.
Facing each other in the Finals for the second straight season, the Heat and Spurs both played at an extremely high level and were evenly matched through the first three-and-a-half quarters. That balance swung when the best player in the world came out, but they'll both be in juggernaut form for Game 2.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel|
|Sunday, June 8||Game 2: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tuesday, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Thursday, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs*||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tuesday, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Friday, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Source: NBA.com *If necessary|
Game 2 Odds (via Odds Shark): Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs (-4)
The Finals began with San Antonio favored by 3.5 points in Game 1, which basically accounts for home-court advantage and otherwise considers it a toss-up. Between LeBron's absence and the Spurs' offensive explosion—which came in large part with him sitting—Vegas could not justify a significant spread change prior to Game 2.
The half-point bump in San Antonio's favor does give them credit for their late-game shooting, which qualified as otherworldly regardless of who was on the court guarding them.
Yes, San Antonio had to deal with the same temperature conditions as Miami, but the Spurs' style of play proved more punishing for the Heat than vice versa. Miami's players slowed on their rotations down the stretch, steady on-ball coverage ceded to flailing for passes, and the defense folded.
Facing a discombobulated unit too gassed to recover, San Antonio took whatever looks it wanted. That's how the Spurs were able to thrive at the end of the game; they kept attacking Miami's defense, but the shots produced largely came easily from high-efficiency areas.
Despite the extenuating circumstances surrounding that fourth quarter, which resulted in a 31-9 San Antonio run, there are a couple important lessons to take away.
First and foremost, Miami cannot afford to sit LeBron James under any circumstances, regardless of the temperature.
Even if a Shane Battier or a Rashard Lewis can replicate James' size (though not his strength), the drop-off in athleticism is severe, and the on-a-string defense suffers from the loss of quickness.
On the other end, LeBron's gravitational effect on the defense creates opportunities for teammates in a way no other Heat player can duplicate. Dwyane Wade doesn't have it in him to be a lead scorer against San Antonio anymore, nor does Miami's offense give Chris Bosh the tools to do that job efficiently.
After watching the Heat offense play rudderless basketball late, it makes perfect sense that LeBron led all scores with 25 despite missing a big chunk of the fourth. He was the only Heat scorer who could scare San Antonio in isolation, and that makes him even more valuable to the Heat offense than to the defense.
In total contrast to the Heat's star-centric makeup, the Spurs made it very clear in Game 1 that they would beat Miami with their depth.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all played excellent basketball, but the rest of the Spurs put them in a position to perform that well.
Boris Diaw's big-man creativity flummoxed Miami. As it did last season, Kawhi Leonard's athleticism forced Miami to engineer its offense around separating him from LeBron at all costs. Danny Green's sharpshooting returned in that fourth-quarter barrage. Tiago Splitter capitalized on his opportunities inside and moved the ball well, too.
This is only partially a surprise. Rotational depth is Gregg Popovich's bread and butter, and in order to beat the Heat's Big Three, San Antonio's fourth, fifth and sixth options were going to have to significantly outperform Miami's
In Game 1, they did even more than that. The supporting Spurs became weapons in their own right. As long as that's the case, this is San Antonio's series to lose.