Let's Give Credit to San Antonio Spurs for Overcoming Heat in Game 1

Zach BuckleyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 2, 2016

Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) celebrates with San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) and forward Boris Diaw (33) during the fourth quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

With the AT&T Center morphed into an oversized sauna for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat were forced to wage an unexpected war with the elements Thursday night.

But so, too, were the San Antonio Spurs. And somehow that integral part of the plot has failed to carry over to the morning-after narratives.

Now, there's a reason this section of the story hasn't resonated loudly with the basketball world. (And, no, it's not because hoop heads have been sleeping on the Spurs for years.)

The Spurs had all the signs of a team affected by the sweltering conditions: sweat-soaked uniforms, uncharacteristic sloppiness (23 turnovers).

What they didn't have, though, was a future Hall of Famer sidelined for the majority of the fourth quarter by debilitating cramps affected (if not outright caused) by the scalding temperature. LeBron James, who scored a team-high 25 points, was rendered completely immobile by a body that refused to cooperate with the mind's orders.

"The best option for me to do was not to move," James told a pool reporter regarding the fourth quarter cramp that shut him down. "I tried and any little step or nudge, it would get worse...Best thing for me to was just not to move."

The Spurs had no obvious casualty to the conditions. Even if one of Gregg Popovich's players had been forced off the floor, it's hard to say his absence would have left the same imprint as James'.

James had a team-high 31.0 usage percentage during the regular season, via Basketball-Reference.com, the fourth largest in the league. Tony Parker led the Spurs at 26.5 percent, which did not even register inside the NBA's top 20.

When James left the floor, so did Miami's survival skills.

That's a critical component in digesting the night's events.

It's not, however, the reason San Antonio secured a 110-95 series-opening victory.

"Were the tropical conditions a factor in the game?" Bleacher Report's Howard Beck wrote. "Most certainly, though as players on both teams repeatedly noted, everyone had to contend with the same hot, heavy air."

The Spurs might have access to the Fountain of Youth, but they're not immune to the elements. They felt the same heat that broke down the Heat's biggest star.

"It was tough on both teams," Popovich said, via Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press. "They were pretty dead. We tried to get guys in and out. ... It was really hot out there."

Hot enough to impact the outcome of the game? Perhaps. Hot enough that the league should have intervened and postponed the contest? Not at all.

Besides, for the most important parts of the night, San Antonio's offense might have been even hotter.

Early on, Manu Ginobili looked to atone for his struggles in the 2013 Finals. He checked in at the seven-minute, 18-second mark of the first quarter and still finished the frame with nine points and three assists. That was only the beginning for what would be a historically significant night from San Antonio's super sub:

The Spurs bigs feasted on the Heat's undersized interior throughout the contest. San Antonio welcomed Miami's aggressive traps on pick-and-rolls, hitting a rolling screener before the Heat could rotate any size back to the middle. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter combined for 35 points on 14-of-16 shooting.

Tony Parker terrorized the Heat off the dribble. He racked up 19 points and eight assists in his 37 minutes, contributing in a big way to the brutal night for Miami's starting point guard Mario Chalmers (five turnovers, five fouls, three points in 17 minutes).

Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) shoots the ball against Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers (15) during the first quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sport

Once Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard awoke in the final quarter, the Spurs started playing the numbers game that always seems to fall in their favor. The two wings entered the final period with four combined points and ended their night with 22 between them.

Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills chipped in with another 16 points. Boris Diaw was a non-factor as a scorer (two points on 1-of-5 shooting) but made major contributions as a rebounder (10) and distributor (six assists).

On a night so far removed from the realm of normalcy, the Spurs still found a comfort zone. They followed the blueprint that has taken them this far, as Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb noted:

With the game on the line, there was no hero-ball. There was no attempt by Tony Parker or Tim Duncan to win the game on his own. There was a commitment to the system, a willingness to look for guys like Green despite his struggles. That discipline and confidence in the game plan is what separates the Spurs from so many teams.

As for Miami, this will go down as a game of missed opportunities. And not only because the best player on the planet became an involuntary observer down the stretch.

The Heat turned those 23 Spurs turnovers into only 28 points, via NBA.com. That's one more than San Antonio got off Miami's 18 giveaways.

The Heat actually created two more uncontested looks than the Spurs (31-29), according to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking. The problem was San Antonio converted those shots at a 58.6 percent rate (17 of 29), while Miami hit only 48.4 percent of its open looks (15 of 31).

Miami suffered double-digit losses in both the rebounding (39-29) and assist (30-16) battles. The Spurs had more than 10 percentage-point advantages in field-goal (58.8 to 47.4) and three-point (52.0 to 41.4) shooting.

This is not to erase the significance to those temperature readings. They are vital pieces of the Game 1 puzzle.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

"Nothing changed this night as much as the lack of a South Texas staple," Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News noted. "When the air conditioning went away, and even luxury boxes turned into hot boxes, this was a throwback to the days of Boston Garden heat waves."

But the Heat didn't lose to the heat. Not when the Spurs were playing in the same sweat box.

Obviously, Miami needs a healthy James going forward. But it also has to find San Antonio's shooters, contain those bruising bigs and get something of value from its point guards.

The Spurs have their own issues to address. They need to make better decisions against a defense as active and intelligent as the Heat's. They can't afford to allow that many uncontested shots.

Miami let one slip away. San Antonio dodged a bullet.

Game 1 is officially in the books. Put an asterisk beside the margin of victory if you want, but make sure to leave it off of the result.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.