The 2014 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat began with a bizarre and unorthodox start. Perhaps Game 2 will yield a return to normalcy.
According to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, an overheated circuit breaker at AT&T Center caused the arena’s air conditioning to malfunction. That caused temperatures to climb as high as 90 degrees, per ESPN’s Royce Young, which left everyone in the stadium trying their best to cool down.
Players were using wet towels and ice packs, while stadium patrons utilized noisemakers as makeshift personal fans. The man hit hardest by the heat and humidity, though, was Heat superstar LeBron James.
Miami actually held a fourth-quarter lead in the 110-95 Game 1 loss prior to LBJ’s battle with leg cramps. He settled for two long-range, two-point jump shots (both misses) before signaling to head coach Erik Spoelstra that he needed a breather.
James was able to check back into the game at the 4:33 mark, but after driving to the bucket for a layup with 4:09 left, the cramps got worse, and he was carried off the court.
“I was going to try to give it a go and Spo said no,” James told a pool reporter after the game (h/t the Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman). “It sucks at this point in time in the season.”
The four-time MVP added that he was frustrated and angry by not being able to compete but said that the cramping would get worse with “any little step or nudge.”
To the Spurs' credit, they got everything going in the fourth quarter and took full advantage of the time James spent on the bench. Pop’s crew went on a 26-9 run to close the game and outscored Miami 36-17 in the final period.
The NBA has since announced that the air-conditioning problem at AT&T Center has been fixed, per a tweet from Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy:
The NBA announces that the AT&T Center's "AC system has been tested, is fully operational and will continue to be monitored."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 6, 2014
Regardless of any potential hiccups that could occur moving forward, the Heat can’t afford to go down 0-2 in the series. They’re undefeated in every playoff series during the Big Three era when losing Game 1, per Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin, but a two-game deficit would be tough to climb out of (see: Oklahoma City Thunder).
So which team will pull out a victory in Game 2 under (presumably) normal circumstances?
Seeds: Miami Heat No. 2; San Antonio Spurs No. 1
Series: Spurs lead 1-0
Schedule for Series: Game 2, Sunday, June 8, 8 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 3, Tuesday, June 10, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 4, Thursday, June 12, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 5*, Sunday, June 15, 8 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 6*, Tuesday, June 17, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 7*, Friday, June 20, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
Key Storyline for Miami Heat
For Miami, getting two full days of rest prior to Sunday’s Game 2 is exactly what the team needs to decompress.
James will have plenty of time to recuperate and hydrate after those debilitating cramps kept him out of action for most of Thursday’s fourth quarter. Having him down the stretch will obviously be huge. The Heat led by two points when he was initially subbed out with 7:31 left to play. They wound up losing by 15.
Spoelstra said during a press conference Friday that his players were talking about the lack of AC—and thus heat and humidity—during halftime. Per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
Spoelstra says all his players were talking about the heat at halftime and he told them to stop— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 6, 2014
The man patrolling Miami’s sideline wasn’t about to let the conditions become an excuse for his players, but that couldn’t prevent LeBron’s ailment.
On the flip side, the heightened temperatures didn’t phase San Antonio. Bleacher Report NBA Lead Writer Josh Martin wrote about that in a recent article, but one key takeaway was a quote from Tony Parker.
“It felt like I was playing in the European Championship. We never have AC in Europe so it didn’t bother me at all,” the Frenchman said, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
Getting back to cooler temperatures would seem to favor the Heat (how’s that for irony?). Of course, their success will be dependent upon James’ health regardless.
Key Storyline for San Antonio Spurs
Can the Spurs offense continue firing on all cylinders?
During the Game 1 win, San Antonio shot 58.8 percent from the field and 52 percent from three-point range. Their shooting numbers were the only things hotter than the in-game temperatures.
Perhaps more importantly, however, was the performance from Parker.
For one, he was comfortable playing in the scorching conditions. His ankle injury—which kept him out for the second half of Game 6 against the Thunder—also didn’t pose any problems.
Popovich’s floor general played a game-high 37 minutes, finishing with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting (2 of 2 from three) to accompany eight assists.
The efficient outburst from the 32-year-old was a welcome sign for Spurs fans. He was one of the major question marks entering this series, but he played extremely well in Game 1.
San Antonio may not shoot better than 58 percent against Miami’s (usual) championship-caliber defense again, but it could potentially ride the momentum of its huge fourth quarter into the next contest.
The Spurs ran away with Game 1 after outscoring Miami by 19 points in the final 12 minutes of action. A huge reason for the late charge was the sharpshooting of Danny Green.
The 26-year-old shooting guard struggled through the first three quarters but got into a groove late in the fourth. He drained three treys in less than three minutes and finished with 13 points overall.
His barrage of three-pointers cut Miami’s lead to one, put San Antonio up by two and extended the lead to five with less than four minutes to play.
He’ll continue to be one of the biggest X-factors for the Spurs’ balanced attack.
As for Miami, 38-year-old shooting guard Ray Allen will need to continue knocking down shots from the perimeter. Point guard Mario Chalmers hasn’t reached double-digits points since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets, so Allen has to keep providing the offensive spark that doesn’t come from James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
The wily veteran drained three threes of his own, finishing with 16 points, three assists, three rebounds, five steals and the highlight breakaway dunk above.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan
The air-conditioning fiasco and LBJ’s leg cramps will continue stealing headlines. The most talented big men on each squad, however, had a noteworthy back-and-forth battle during Game 1.
Bosh scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds.
Duncan poured in 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting with 10 boards, but he added five turnovers.
Each guy played a solid game, but the supporting cast helped TD more. While Bosh snatched nine rebounds (two on the offensive glass), Miami only managed to snag 29 as a team—10 fewer than San Antonio.
Losing the rebounding battle has been an ongoing theme for Miami in recent years.
It hasn’t prevented them from winning back-to-back championships, but Bosh needs to stem the bleeding in that category. The Heat won’t win this series if they continue getting crushed on the glass.
San Antonio pulled away from the Heat rather quickly in the closing minutes of Game 1 with James unable to perform. That shouldn’t belittle the Spurs' stellar play by any stretch, but it does bring on a few “what if?” questions.
Which team will win?
Even so, James will be out to shut up his doubters once again after cramps prevented him from closing the deal on the road.
Miami hasn’t lost back-to-back playoff games since the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics (when it lost three straight). Expect that trend of consistency to continue as Spoelstra’s crew makes enough defensive adjustments to win by a slim margin.
Prediction: Heat defeat Spurs 105-102