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Spurs withstand Heat, benefit from LeBron’s absence

Weird things happen during a basketball season. Miami, down five with 28.6 seconds left in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, secured an errant carom off the rim to find Ray Allen for the game-tying 3-pointer. A generator busts, releasing a fit of smoke and a game is postponed. Serge Ibaka injured a muscle that isn’t present in 15 percent of the population, is ruled out for the season, returns five days later and makes a positive impact in the Western Conference Finals. Then the Spurs, losers of two straight, won Games 5 and 6 by a combined 33 points.

So perhaps Game 1 shouldn’t been a huge surprise either. The air conditioning in the AT&T Center crapped out. The Miami Heat were crapped out by the fourth quarter. The Heat held a four-point lead heading into the final quarter. The Spurs were fumbling the ball — nine times in the third quarter — and the Splitter-Duncan tandem, a pairing which has been a staple of Gregg Popovich’s rotation all season long, was exposed by Rashard Lewis.

Then a weird thing happened. The Spurs found their stride.

“It took us until halfway through the fourth where we really figured it out and started taking care of the ball,” Tim Duncan said.

LeBron, seemingly infallible as they come, left the game with 3:59 remaining. His body failed him at the most inopportune moment and the Spurs crushed Miami, outscoring them by 13 points in the final four minutes. Don’t blame LeBron* either; San Antonio was already well on their way to a dominating Game 1 victory before he left. They finished on a 31-9 run after all.

*In defense of LeBron: The man has played 14,607 minutes since the 2010-11 season, not including the Olympics. About a fourth of his minutes have been in the playoffs, where each possession saps even more mental and physical energy. He has the largest burden in the NBA — he is the Miami Heat. Cramps happen and, again, basketball is just weird sometimes.

The conditions weren’t ideal*, of course. ESPN reported that the temperature on the court reached 90 degrees at one point. It was an unprecedented environment, at least in the NBA Finals — a raucous crowd of 20,000 plus and two teams of professional athletes playing basketball in a confined environment. It was hot, sweaty, unbearable. A flat-out mess. But it’s not an excuse.

*Especially for Miami. Playing the Spurs on the road in the NBA Finals is already a tall order. They are 11-3 in home games during the Finals AND they had to deal with the environment. Tony Parker said post game that they upped the pace to push the Heat to the brink. It took 36 minutes, but it happened. San Antonio has that luxury. Miami doesn’t. And there’s the game.

Dwyane Wade was asked if he had played in these conditions before. “Not in the NBA,” he said. “Not in the Finals. I think everybody has done it before.”

Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, all with experience overseas, didn’t mind the extra heat. They combined for 35 points and 19 assists in the 110-95 victory.

“I don’t think we turned the ball over because of the temperature or the heat,” Ginobili said. “I don’t think it was a big factor … For sure I’ve played in more situations like this than with A/C on a court.”

“Me, personally, it didn’t bother me,” Parker said. “It felt like I was playing in Europe. It didn’t bother me at all.”

The Spurs have been here before. So has Miami.  These teams are well-versed in what it takes to win a title and winning games like this one — in adverse conditions, with everything going against you — certainly counts. Championship teams make the most of out of nothing. Championship teams get a few breaks, too. It’s basically impossible to win a title without having a few blips of good luck and bad luck. It evens out eventually. (No kidding.)

The Spurs, for at least one game, showed their championship mettle. Miami is in a familiar position, down 0-1 in the NBA Finals. They’ve done it before, but they need a few fortuitous breaks in their favor.

QUOTABLES

Popovich: “Both teams are going to be happy that we have a couple days before the next game. Hopefully we can pay our bills.”

Bosh: “I’m from Texas. We couldn’t afford air conditioning in high school.” (via Matthew Tynan)

Duncan: “I don’t think I’ve ever played in anything like this since I’ve left the islands. It was pretty bad out there.”

Battier: “I’d much rather have a hot gym than a cold gym.” (via Ethan Skolnick)

Ginobili: “We are in the same exact spot as last year. We are up 1-0. They always come back. They always adjust well.”

James: “At the end of the day, it’s no discredit for what they did. They played extremely well.” (via Joseph Goodman)

Green: “Like Pop says, we just kept pounding that rock.” (via Matt Moore)

Parker: “I think Game 2 is huge … We need to stay focused and have the mentality that we didn’t do anything.”

STAT(S) OF THE NIGHT

  • The Spurs won Game 1 with 22 turnovers, the highest turnover total by a winning team in NBA Finals history.
  • The Spurs won their 11th straight Game 1, tying a NBA record.
  • The win is the Spurs’ eighth straight home victory by 15+ points, also a NBA record. They’ve won nine straight home games by a combined 187 points.
  • When Splitter and Duncan shared the floor, the Spurs were outscored by 27.8 points per 100 possessions, per Matthew Tynan.
  • Parker-Manu-Kawhi-Boris-Duncan led the team with eight minutes. They were +133.3 points per 100 possessions, per Andrew McNeill.
  • Spurs were +30 in Boris Diaw’s 33 minutes (!!!), a team-high.
  • Spurs were +15 in the 15 minutes LeBron sat. That happened to be the final margin of victory. (Coincidence?)
  • Tim Duncan tallied his 156th playoff double-double. He’s one short of Magic Johnson for first all-time.
  • Duncan is the first player since Wilt Chamberlain (1972) with 20+ points, 10+ rebounds and 90 percent shooting in the NBA Finals, per Jon Hartzell.
  • Also: Duncan tallied his 25th double-double in the NBA Finals, the most since 1985.
  • More Duncan: He’s averaging 21.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 48.4 percent shooting in the NBA Finals.
  • Last thing on Duncan: He won his 20th NBA Finals game, tied for 12th all-time. If the Spurs win the title, he’ll move into eight place with Kobe Bryant.

GATORADE SIPPIN’ ON THE HATERADE

Gatorade, spurned by LeBron in 2003, couldn’t help but troll him on Twitter following the game. (Gatorade officially apologized today.)

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PHOTO OF THE NIGHT

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Tim Duncan has committed 3,661 fouls in his career. All of them are horses****.

Quixem Ramirez

About Quixem Ramirez

Quixem Ramirez is the sports editor for the University Star, the content editor for Toros Nation, and a staff writer for Project Spurs. He enjoys basketball and pie -- sometimes in that order.

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