The Miami HEAT let a great opportunity to steal Game 1 and homecourt advantage get away from them last night. They were up by seven with 9:22 remaining, but LeBron James’ cramping – caused largely in part to the air conditioning at the AT&T center going out – coincided with a San Antonio Spurs run and the HEAT couldn’t keep pace afterwards, falling 110-95.
Because they were without the reigning two-time Finals MVP for the last four minutes of the game (they were down two when he went out), it would be easy to rely on his return, and the fixed air conditioning system, to be the difference makers in Game 2. However, there were other issues that caused concern during Game 1 – issues that are more under their control.
“Obviously we have to do some things better,” HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They make it tough. That’s what’s great about this matchup. You have two teams that are trying to do what they do, you can exploit the other team but it’s going to go back and forth, who can get to who. They move the ball extremely well, had us moving around. We were able to force some turnovers, make them uncomfortable. We need to find a little bit of a happy medium. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing. At the end of the day regardless of how we got to that point, we were up seven. Going down the stretch we pride ourselves in fourth quarter defense. If we would have defended at our normal rate we would have had a better chance to win.”
“If they continue to shoot it that way it’s going to be tough on us,” Dwyane Wade said. “I thought we did a good job of getting to guys early on, I thought later they got open shots. Whatever the reason for breakdowns, they do a good job of making you guess, but I think it all starts on the ball. Manu Ginobili picked us apart last night. We have to do a good job of containing that, getting to the shooters and protecting the paint better. I thought we did a good job until the end. They got a few opens shots. Danny Green got loose for a few. You try contain him the whole night but they did their job they stayed with it, stayed with their game plan and got the shots to fall when they really needed and blew the game open towards the end.”
While the HEAT refused to lean on the increased temperature as an excuse, it will be nice to play in the atmosphere they’re accustomed to.
“It was some extreme conditions,” James said. “I’ve never played in an NBA game like it was last night as far as the heat. It’s not an excuse but it was extreme conditions. I looked at the stands at one point and I saw every fan having fans, waving fans. I knew at that point this was something different.”
Even with the problem fixed, Wade would like to see Coach Speolstra be conscious of keeping guys fresh for late in the game.
“We’re going to have to use our depth a little more,” Wade said. “[We] have to go a little deeper into our bench. At this time of the year you can’t leave anything to chance; I look forward to us using more guys next game. I feel part of our downfall was mental but physical fatigue. Rotations that we normally do wasn’t done last night. It wasn’t from having the will or want to do it. We have to be a little smarter. We have to go deeper on our bench so we can have the guys fresher in the end who we want out there.”
Looking back in hindsight, Spoelstra agreed – but pointed out that it’s difficult to sit James, whose regular rotation pattern was altered a great deal already, for 15-18 minutes in the Finals.
The HEAT have been very proactive with James’ potential to cramp since the last incident in the 2012 NBA Finals, but even with all they’ve done to stay ahead of the problem, what happened last night was inevitable because of the conditions.
“Let’s separate the past to last night,” Spoelstra said. “Last night was such an extreme situation and you have to be able to differentiate the two. He had the Game 4 in OKC that everyone knows about and since then we think our staff and LeBron’s diligence has taken care of that matter.”
“For obvious reasons I was very angry, disappointed in myself,” James said. “I did everything that I needed to prepare for this game, this moment, I felt like my body failed me last night. I was angry. I couldn’t help my team get over the hump in a huge Game 1, try to make a statement. Right after I made that layup we were down two. I’m disappointed in myself, angry with myself that I couldn’t be out there when my team needed me the most. That was frustrating for sure.”
Anyone who has experienced cramps knows that there’s no defeating them. You simply have to wait them out, and James’ were so severe that even 12 hours later he was still hurting.
“I’m pretty sore right now just from the muscles spasms,” James said. “They’re starting to release. I’m pretty sore in my legs. What I went through the last 12 hours was getting up and using the restroom a lot. I got two and a half bags of IV last night right after the game. Between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. I got up about six or seven times. Obviously I got no sleep.”
“Most athletes pace themselves,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not a coincidence and there’s not a secret why we’ve had the success we’ve had with the best player in the game. When he pushes his body past the point of regular limits for a competitive advantage, I think it’s an extremely admirable trait. But last night was extreme.”
With Game 2 set for Sunday night, the HEAT have plenty of time remaining to rest and recover from Thursday’s grueling contest. Heading home with a 2-0 advantage was always an unrealistic best-case scenario; however with the right tweaks, and a full rotation available throughout, the HEAT can be right where they wanted to be, even after such a disappointing close to Game 1.
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