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.
The Spurs are basically doing LeBron's work for him... swatting away the idiots who criticize a guy for not playing when body shuts down.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 6, 2014
On Friday, Spurs star Tim Duncan said he could relate to James' predicament.
Tim Duncan refers to a Game 7 against Dallas where he cramped severely in regulation & OT. "There's no shaking it off."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 6, 2014
Head coach Gregg Popovich simply expressed admiration.
Popovich on LeBron, "amazing how he handles himself through all the scrutiny."— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) June 6, 2014
After Game 1, Popovich admitted on Thursday that James' absence was a game-changer to at least some degree.
"It certainly could have been a different story. There's no doubt about that." Gregg Popovich on LeBron James exiting early— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) June 6, 2014
So, too, did point guard Tony Parker.
Tony Parker: "When LeBron goes out, obviously you lose the best in the world. We realized that and took advantage."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 6, 2014
Parker wants to play a Miami team that's at full strength.
Tony Parker: "I want the A/C comes back. I want to play the real Miami Heat."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 6, 2014
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.
Spoelstra: "I think the thing that's lost out there is how competitive LeBron James is when he gets to this level."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 6, 2014
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.