NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: A new referendum on LeBron — The Alamo won’t go down as one of the favorite places LeBron James has been during his worldly travels. The Miami Heat star wilted under the intense heat at the AT&T Center in Game 1 of The Finals Thursday night, sparking a new round of criticism from folks who question his mental (and now physical) toughness. And as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports points out, the LeBron debate once again snatches the spotlight from The Finals itself and a Spurs team that put together a monster and record-setting fourth quarter shooting barrage to win the game:
Fair or not, this NBA Finals is now very much about LeBron James because no matter the reality of how a propensity to cramp is the sole known downside to having a 6-foot-8, 265-pound body capable of playing all five positions on the court, no one was spending any time postgame defending him.
“Look,” Heat coach Erik Spolestra said, “both teams had to do it, we’re not making excuses.”
Instead Miami pointed to poor defense (the Spurs shot 58.8 percent from the floor), bad defensive rotations in crunch time sans-LeBron, and its 16 turnovers. The heat, they actually reveled in. LeBron’s faltering, after scoring 25 points and grabbing six rebounds, was shrugged off. Who needs AC? Ray Allen said it reminded him of his non-air conditioned high school gym back in Dalzell, South Carolina.
“I loved it,” Allen said. “… I felt right at home. Keeps my body loose.”
Shane Battier pointed to his college days at Duke, where Cameron Indoor Stadium at the time was left to the elements – and heated by tightly packed Cameron Crazies.
“It didn’t bother me,” Battier said. “It was that hot in Cameron Indoor every single game. It was a huge, huge advantage. Ten thousand people on you, no AC.”
The Spurs’ Tony Parker went with his days back in France and across the European leagues.
“We never have AC in Europe,” Parker said, “so it didn’t bother me at all.”
Even Dwyane Wade just shrugged. Heat and humidity isn’t normally part of the NBA these days, but the game is the game.
“If you play basketball,” Wade said, “you play basketball where it’s hot like this. I think everybody has done it before.”
This sounded like a parade of tough guy talk radio callers wanting to bolster themselves with the illusion of being stronger than LeBron. Only it was James’ teammates and peers, and that’s why this won’t be easy to shake.
Physically, with Game 2 not coming until Sunday, LeBron will recover. Image wise, he’s back to getting bashed like back before he became a champion.
“Everybody was tired,” the Spurs’ Danny Green said. “Everybody was sluggish.”
No sympathy. Just high stakes.
No. 2: Spurs depth shines as they rise in the heat — The Spurs Way is real. It’s not about one man but about the group, the system and a way of operating, not just at crunch time but at all times. And when they needed to Thursday night, the Spurs rose to the occasion and seized control of things late in Game 1. J.A. Adande of ESPN.com adds some perspective on why the Spurs were able to overcome the heat and the Heat when it mattered most:
The Spurs didn’t outplay the Heat so much as they outlasted them on a sultry Texas night when the AT&T Center air conditioning didn’t work and LeBron James missed seven minutes of the fourth quarter because of cramping in his left leg.
The Spurs stayed true to their ways, continuing to move the ball around even though many passes had gone wayward over the course of the night. Danny Green kept faith in his shot even though he missed all five of his field goal attempts in the first three quarters, then knocked down three 3-pointers in the fourth. They kept “pounding the rock” (yes, Green actually said Popovich’s pet phrase).
“Guys keeping other guys in the game and keeping the passion was a huge one tonight,” reserve guard Patty Mills said. “No matter what happened, we all just hung together as a group and just said little comments to keep people motivated. ‘We’re still in this. Keep grinding, keep grinding.’ And I think we’ve done a great job of coming together as a group and finding ways to win.”
Many of the numbers in the final box score looked like vintage Spurs fare. They made 59 percent of their shots, including 52 percent of 3-pointers (13 of 25). They outrebounded Miami 39-29. They had 30 assists. Tim Duncan made nine of his 10 shots, thanks largely to the way his teammates set him up for easy buckets (seven of his baskets were assisted).
The final margin even kept their string of 15-plus-points home victory streak alive, making it seem like business as usual.
Popovich knew better. “The turnovers are usually a killer. We feel very fortunate to have won this game tonight,” he said.
Or, it’s possible the Spurs benefited once again from their grand scheme. We’ve already discussed the way their abundance of international players fosters team cohesion.Thursday night, a few Spurs bought into the notion that they fared better than the Heat in the hot arena because they’re used to playing in stuffy buildings without air conditioning when they play overseas in the summer.
“It was nothing new to us,” Mills said.
The team didn’t take any chances, bringing cooling fans into the locker room at halftime, and keeping the players supplied with liquids and cold towels.
“We tried to get guys in and out a little bit more than we usually do,” Popovich said of his substitution pattern. “Kind of screws up the rhythm a little bit but … it was mighty hot out there.”
The Heat came out the worse for wear. It wasn’t just James checking out 4 ½ minutes into the third quarter, asking for relief with eight minutes to go and then coming out for good with 3:59 remaining in the game. The Heat collectively stopped getting back on defense, stopped rotating to the 3-point shooters, and stopped hitting the boards.
The Spurs scored 16 of the game’s final 19 points after James’ final layup.
“Everybody was sluggish, but I’m proud of my guys that fought through it,” Green said.
No. 3: Green goes from hot to cold in a flash — Danny Green was scoreless until late in the game, right around the time LeBron went down with cramps. He caught fire once James went to the bench, scoring 11 points and draining three long-distance backbreakers during the Spurs’ decisive fourth quarter run. Coincidence? Perhaps. But Green showed up when the Spurs needed him, something he did routinely during The Finals last year. Our very own Jeff Caplan has more on Green’s late game shining moment::
Inside a house that was hotter than a bowl of South Texas salsa, Danny Green was the frozen margarita.
The San Antonio Spurs’ sharpshooter entered Game 1 of these NBA Finals warming the home nets in the postseason to the tune of nearly 60 percent from beyond the arc. Thursday night, his team trailing the Miami Heat near the halfway point of the final period and legs getting heavier by the ticking second inside the humid, steamy, air-condition-less AT&T Center, Green was so cold — 0-for-5 overall and 0-for-4 from deep — that he might as well have been dropping Spalding-sized chunks of hail.
“That’s what he does, you know? That’s [shooting 3s] his major skill,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “If he’s not going to do that, then we might as well play somebody else. That’s the honest-to-God’s truth. I thought the percentages were with him. So we stuck him back out there and he came through.”
Green suddenly sizzled, nailing back-to-back 3-pointers, then slamming home a dunk in transition before splashing another 3 — 11 of his 13 points in a span of two minutes, 17 seconds of the fourth quarter that turned an 86-84 Spurs deficit into a 97-92 lead that would become a 110-95 victory.
It was all part of a 31-9 blistering to close out a monstrous fourth quarter that left LeBron James badly cramping, defeated by the stifling heat and out of the game for the final 3:59 as the Spurs padded their cushion and seized a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“I felt it, too, but lucky for me I didn’t cramp up,” Green said of the heat that had 18,581 fans fanning themselves with whatever they could find to initiate even the slightest breeze. “He [James] played a lot of minutes. Everybody was tired, everybody was drained, everybody was sluggish, but I’m proud of my guys that fought through it.”
For three quarters, Green was just fighting it.
Popovich removed him with 9:38 to go in the fourth quarter. Heat forward Chris Bosh had completed a four-point play, fouled by Tim Duncan out beyond the arc, that pushed Miami ahead 86-79.
The Spurs seemed to be the team wilting late in the stifling, stagnating air that had players downing fluids and flopping cold, wet towels over their heads in an attempt to lower body temperatures. For most of the game it was warmer inside the arena than outside because an electrical problem knocked out the arena’s capability to run the air conditioning for the entire game.
After Bosh’s free throw, San Antonio cut it to 86-84 and Popovich, playing the percentages that Green would heat up, subbed him in for Kawhi Leonard with 7:31 to go.
With 6:07 to go, Green banged in his first 3-pointer of the game to make it 88-87 Heat.
“It helps with the next one,” Green said. “When one goes in it helps gain a little rhythm.”
Ray Allen missed a layup at the other end and Green popped in a 25-footer to give San Antonio the lead back, 90-87.
“Once two go in it helps with confidence as well,” Green said, and he told himself: “Just continue to shoot the ball and not think about the previous shot, just stick to the basics, the fundamentals, take my time and hold my follow-through.”
His one-handed slam after a long, arching lead pass from Duncan made it 94-90. Then James’ layup made it 94-92, but once he landed he couldn’t move, paralyzed by a cramp up and down his left leg. He limped up the floor and finally had to be carried by teammates the final few feet to the Heat bench.
Nine seconds later, Green had his third 3-pointer to make it 97-92, and the previously melting Spurs were suddenly in the midst of a scorching 14-for-16 final quarter (87.5 percent) with Green a perfect 4-for-4.
“He kept his head in the game and he was the difference-maker,” Manu Ginobili said.
No. 4: Phil and Fisher set to talk “more” about Knicks’ coaching vacancy — Are the New York Knicks any closer to a decision on their next head coach? It appears so, with Knicks boss Phil Jackson having already talked once and set to talk again with his former point guard Derek Fisher next week, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. A reunion appears to be in the offing, provided the conversation next week goes according to (Phil’s) plan
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson and his top coaching candidate, Derek Fisher, talked briefly on the telephone Wednesday and plan to reconvene next week, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Jackson expressed his desire to engage Fisher in talks to become the Knicks coach, sources said. Fisher is expected to take the weekend to talk with his family and make a final decision about retiring from his 17-year NBA career in order to fully pursue coaching, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Fisher has been leaning strongly toward ending his playing career, and should that be his final decision, he’s expected to move forward with more substantive talks with Jackson next week, sources said.
The NBA fined Jackson $25,000 for public comments about Fisher, a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, during the Western Conference finals. NBA team officials aren’t allowed to comment about their interest in hiring players or employees under contract elsewhere.
The Knicks’ support system, centered on Jackson, is an attractive part of the job to Fisher. For all the allure of New York and Madison Square Garden, Fisher played parts of his 13 seasons with the Lakers, winning five championships under Jackson.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: How bad was it? Even Gatorade got in on the LeBron trolling after he cramped up late in Game 1 … “Vintage” Manu Ginobili has asserted himself as the true X-factor in The Finals, based on what we saw in Game 1 … Jonathan Martin, yes that one, urges LeBron to “toughen up” … The Timberwolves coaching search started and ended with Flip Saunders, but what does that mean for their future? …