Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich Latest to Defend LeBron James and Cramping Shutdown

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 05:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat sits on the bench after leaving the game in the fourth quarter with cramps against the San Antonio Spurs during Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 5, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs know all too well what kind of damage LeBron James is capable of inflicting. They also know he's a warrior who wouldn't have missed the end of Game 1 were it not absolutely necessary.

Thursday night's game was characterized by 90-degree temperatures due to a malfunctioning air conditioning system. Bleacher Report's Will Carroll explains that the conditions likely contributed to James' troubles:

Most muscle cramps are caused by exertion and dehydration in some combination. The increased heat in the AT&T Center in San Antonio contributed strongly to James' condition, in all likelihood, by creating an imbalance between the loss of fluids and the intake. While the body loses fluid with breathing and urination, increased sweat is usually the largest contributor to exertional cramping.

In the wake of James' absence, some have maligned him for not toughing it out. Not the Spurs, though.

On Friday, Spurs star Tim Duncan said he could relate to James' predicament.

Head coach Gregg Popovich simply expressed admiration.

After Game 1, Popovich admitted on Thursday that James' absence was a game-changer to at least some degree.

So, too, did point guard Tony Parker.

Parker wants to play a Miami team that's at full strength.

It's hard to say whether James would have changed the game's outcome. San Antonio already had the lead when James left the game, and the Spurs may well have gotten hot at the right time even with James on the floor.

But, of course, we'll never know.

Spurs fans may be giving James a tough time for his untimely exit, but the Spurs themselves know better. You'd expect nothing less from a team known for its professionalism. This franchise—like most—has battled enough injuries to understand what LeBron's going through.

By all accounts, there's nothing LeBron or Miami's trainers could have done to change the situation. The notion that there was anything elective about his need to leave the game should be self-evidently preposterous by now. As Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra notes, James is a fierce competitor.

Fierce enough that there's little doubt he'll do everything he can to be ready for Game 2. Cramps are unlike your average injury insofar as they're virtually impossible to control. There's also no way to predict whether they'll reappear later in the series. James could be fine from here on out, or this could become a protracted battle for the superstar.

Only time will tell.

The good news is James will have plenty of time to get right. Game 2 isn't until Sunday evening, giving the 29-year-old two full days to recover. Though anything can happen, you can rest assured the Spurs will prepare for a big bounce-back performance from the four-time MVP.