SAN ANTONIO — They’ve barely started and things are already hot, hot, hot between the Spurs and Heat heading into Game 2.
Bring the gallon jugs of water, lofts of cold towels and plenty of ice.
You don’t want to cramp up in the fourth quarter when LeBron James just might exact his revenge on the faulty air conditioning system at the AT&T Center by adding to his legend.
The maintenance folks say everything has been repaired and temperature inside the arena won’t feel like a hot yoga class. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be sweaty moments as the Heat try to bounce back from the fourth quarter collapse in Game 1 that produced a 110-95 defeat.
LeBron has never won the opening game of a playoff series that was played on the road and that hasn’t exactly put a crimp in his career.
The Heat dropped the opener to the Spurs a year ago, but that was at home and made bouncing back a bit easier. Miami has been incredibly resilient over the past two post-seasons, following a playoff loss by winning a record 12 straight times.
But now out on the road, the stakes are highest, the situation most dire and opponent the toughest as Miami tries to avoid going down 2-0 in any series for the first time since the Heatles formed a band.
All eyes, of course, will be on James, who had to leave Game 1 on Thursday night with severe cramping and watch helplessly as teammates were rolled down the stretch by the Spurs.
James has been resting, getting monitored constantly by the Heat medical staff and promises to be at full throttle for tonight.
Danny Green made another big splash with his trio of 3-pointers to spark the Spurs’ big fourth quarter rally in Game 1. But kicking his feet like a duck below the water level was center Tiago Splitter. After being phased out of minutes in The 2013 Finals and coming off the bench in Games 5 and 6 in the 2014 Western Conference finals, Splitter started and came up big, hitting 5 of 6 shots for 14 points. His nine-point burst from late third to early fourth quarter was an example of how the Spurs must attack the smaller Heat in the low post.
Mario Chalmers is often the wild-card in the Heat lineup that can be an offensive weapon and some of the pressure off the Big Three. But Chalmers got into early foul trouble and wound up playing just 17 minutes, scoring only three points and having five turnovers against 1 assist. Chalmers has got to stay under control and stay on the floor, if only to help coach Erik Spoelstra manage minutes.
Xs and Os:
Just because Tim Duncan shot 9-for-10 in Game 1, don’t expect the Spurs to turn back the clock a decade or more and pump the ball inside to the Big Fundamental. Those days are gone and now Duncan gets his shots out of the flow of the passing game offense. It’s still all about keeping the ball moving and trusting that eventually enough open looks at the basket will produce the necessary points. One thing the Spurs cannot afford is another game with a glut of 23 turnovers. They’ll look to keep their passes simpler and take fewer chances.
Even putting talk of a faulty air conditioning system aside, it is likely necessary for Spoelstra to go deeper into his lineup to keep the likes of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh fresher down the stretch of games. With San Antonio’s bench so deep, the Spurs always have rested bodies on the floor and Spoelstra would benefit just from getting usable minutes from Udonis Haslem and Toney Douglas. The Heat also have to attack the basket and get to the line more. They shot just 11 free throws in Game 1.
Boris Diaw scored just two points in the series opener, but with his 10 rebounds, six assists and solid defensive work against James, finished with the highest plus/minus figure in the game at +30.
Bosh continues his evolution into one of the best 3-point shooting big men in the game. Spreading the floor was a necessary part in the Heat’s growth into two-time champions and Bosh nailed 3 of 4 from behind the arc in the opener.
Whatever happened to…
Chris “Birdman” Andersen continues to be MIA off the Miami bench. He played 17 1/2 minutes in Game 1, but was hardly the disruptive force that can change a game. He grabbed just three rebounds and had one bucket.
The Heat habit is to follow a playoff loss with an inspired win. You’ve got to think LeBron won’t let anything cramp his style.