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Nuggets from Game 1 of the NBA Finals

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: June 6, 2014 at 9:55 am •  Published: June 6, 2014
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Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) is helped from the court by guard Mario Chalmers (15), guard Dwyane Wade (3), Erik Spoelstra, front, right, and Rashard Lewis, right rear, during the second half in Game 1 of the NBA basketball finals on Thursday, June 5, 2014 in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) is helped from the court by guard Mario Chalmers (15), guard Dwyane Wade (3), Erik Spoelstra, front, right, and Rashard Lewis, right rear, during the second half in Game 1 of the NBA basketball finals on Thursday, June 5, 2014 in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
  • What a great game. What a great, great start to this series.
  •  Unfortunately, the thing we’ll hear about all weekend is cramps. Cramps to LeBron James late in the fourth quarter became the story of the game. But it shouldn’t have. Both teams competed as hard as possible for 48 minutes. We saw great defense, better offense and a few incredible individual performances. But because LeBron is who he is, his injury-plagued finish will be the story from Game 1.
  •  I tweeted this while LeBron was going through his issues and the Internet was calling him everything but a child of God. Anybody who has ever played the game — at any level — and had serious cramping wouldn’t be talking trash about LeBron. Period.
  •  It’s funny because I played pick-up Wednesday night and started to cramp up after about my third game. I don’t tell this story to compare myself in any way to the world’s greatest athletes. But follow me. I wasn’t giving nearly the effort as the Heat or the Spurs, nor was I playing against nearly the competition, nor was I playing in nearly the heat that the busted air conditioner inside the AT&T Center caused, nor was I playing for nearly the stakes. Still, like LeBron on Thursday night, I caught a cramp in my left calf. And as I was boxing out a taller, stronger player, his knee bumped into my already-cramping calf. I immediately felt it tighten even more. When his length allowed him to reach the ball over my back and get his paws on the ball (only to tap it out of bounds), I knew when we inbounded the ball to go the other way that the moment I exploded off of my left leg the cramp would worsen. And so, having been in that position before, I took it easy. It wasn’t worth it in my mind.
  •  LeBron didn’t have that luxury. That’s what made me curious to see how he would handle his situation after subbing back in with 4:33 left to play. Sure enough, the moment he blew by Boris Diaw for a layup, exploding off that same troubled left calf on his first play back on the floor, it was enough to tighten up that muscle even more and knock him out for the rest of the game. I’m no doctor, but I learned about physiological contracture way back in 10th grade at Bishop McGuinness from track coach and then-science teacher, Mr. Swink. Shout out Mr. Swink. Ever since, I’ve known that once your muscles tighten up to that point, it’s simply nothing you can do about it. Tough break. But let’s not lambast LeBron for some supposed lack of toughness.
  •  And, please, spare me the talk of ‘Nobody else was cramping.’ Both coaches admitted that the heat played a factor. Players echoed those sentiments. Tim Duncan even said on his on-court interview immediately after the game that everybody was dehydrated. Fluids can only do so much. Sometimes, cramping just happens.
  •  I’m sure some will ridicule LeBron for having to be carried off the floor the last little bit of the way to the bench as well. Again, if you’ve ever experienced how a severe leg cramp can lock up and tighten so much that it feels like the affected muscle is about to explode, then you know walking in that moment is virtually impossible. Forget about playing. But, hey, since it’s LeBron and he’s the best player in the world I guess people feel like it’s OK to make fun of the guy.
  •  LeBron has had a history of cramping, the issue even showing up in these playoffs. But what we saw tonight reminded me of what we witnessed from LeBron in Game 4 of the 2012 Finals against the Thunder. He cramped up then, too. Only that time, he was able to overcome his disruption and hit a critical, tie-breaking 3-pointer with just under three minutes remaining to help the Heat to an eventual 104-98 win. How quickly we forget.
  •  Before LeBron went down, the heat factor was actually a cool element. When ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen informed us late in the second quarter that the air conditioner inside AT&T Center had malfunctioned, it reminded me of folklore that helps make the NBA great. Tales of smoke-filled arenas. Hotter-than-Hell coliseums. This is a game I would have loved to experience live, whether as a fan or a member of the media.
  •  As for the game, like I said it was a dandy. It’s clear these are the two best teams in basketball, maybe by a wide margin. And with so many intriguing matchups all over the floor, this series should only get better as it goes along.
  •  Manu Ginobili balled. From the moment he checked into the game, he looked determined to atone for his disappointing Finals last year, when he averaged just 11.6 points on 43.3 percent shooting. Shooting with extraordinary confidence, he made his first three 3s, rebounded well and whipped the ball around, finding teammates for open shots before finishing with a game-high 11 assists. Huge game by Ginobili.
  •  Dwyane Wade looked great early, too. He got off to a fantastic start, scoring at the rim, hitting jump shots and complementing LeBron perfectly to keep the Heat on top or hanging around. You could see in that first half why Wade is the key to the Heat. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Bron. It’s Wade who, when on his A-game, makes the Heat dangerous, if not unstoppable.
  •  In the second half, however, Wade looked gassed, like the heat had done a number on him, particularly in the third quarter. In those final 24 minutes, Wade had seven points on 3-for-10 shooting. My guess is nobody will mention that, though.
  •  Where was Kawhi Leonard? We keep hearing about how he’s on the cusp of stardom. I’ve even said it and written it myself. But from the start tonight, he was missing in action. While his defense was decent, he provided next to nothing for the majority of the game offensively, which made Manu’s contributions that much more meaningful. He’s got to be better going forward.
  •  Kawhi stepped up and hit a huge shot late, though — a 3-pointer that put the Spurs ahead, 102-95 with 1:43 remaining.
  •  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player as bipolar as Danny Green. He’s either scorching hot or ice cold. Never seems to be an in-between with him. Through three quarters, Green had two points on 0-for-5 shooting. In 20 minutes! He was absolutely awful. At home, no less. But he awoke after making his first field goal, a 3-pointer that pulled the Spurs within 88-87 with 6:07 remaining.
  •  Green then hit a second straight 3 to give San Antonio a two-point lead. Then he converted a fast break dunk that wasn’t quite a poster on Rashard Lewis but still pivotal nonetheless. It gave the Spurs a four-point lead that they’d never relinquish and was part of a 13-4 San Antonio run in which Green contributed 11 points.
  •  After Green hit his second straight 3, Chris “Birdman” Andersen took Duncan off the dribble and scored on a sweet reverse layup. I just thought that should be noted.
  •  I loved what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said about Green after the game. “That’s what he does. That’s his major skill,” Popovich said of Green’s shooting. “If he’s not going to do that, then we might as well play somebody else. And that’s the honest-to-God’s truth. So I thought the percentages were with him. So we stuck him back out there and he came through.”
  •  Key thing on Green’s back-to-back 3-point jacks. Both came off Diaw feeds. This dude Diaw had the best two-point, 1-for-5 shooting game I can remember. That’s because he added 10 rebounds, six assists and turned it over just once. His versatility is a nightmare for any team but specifically the Heat. He was checking LeBron (again) at one point, and making plays all over the floor. But his passing is the biggest thing. He’s keeping the Heat off balance as a big who can make plays with the ball in his hands, either with the extra pass or attacking and dishing off the dribble. Keep an eye on Diaw.
  •  Turnovers are the only thing that marred this game. Way, way, way too many. By both teams. Twenty-three for the Spurs. Eighteen for the Heat. Some of it was great defense. A lot of it was just sloppy passes and playing in a crowd. I’m sure both teams will clean that up as we go on.
  •  Tony Parker looked fine to me.
  •  I don’t think Chris Bosh can take advantage of Duncan and Tiago Splitter out beyond the arc in this series like he did Roy Hibbert in the East Finals. Both Duncan and Splitter have their weaknesses, but they’re both more fleet of foot than Hibbert, which will allow them to close out and contest shots much better. The Spurs also aren’t super reliant on those two shutting off the lane like Indiana was/is with Hibbert. Bosh made a few buckets from long range, but I just don’t see him dictating and dominating a matchup in this series like he did in the latter stages of the East Finals.
  •  Ray Allen had way too many open looks for a man with the reputation he carries. Fortunately for San Antonio, he had an off shooting night. My guess is the Spurs seek to clean that up, because if they don’t he’ll burn them if given those same looks in Game 2.
  •  We saw back-in-the-day-Ray with two minutes left in the third, though. He went coast to coast and threw down a nasty dunk that literally made me come halfway off my couch.
  •  Ray got away with a push-off on that play, though.
  •  Mario Chalmers’ foul trouble really hurt Miami. He was limited to 17 minutes and never was able to get into a rhythm. Although the Heat shot 41 percent from downtown, it took away a 3-point threat from the Heat (Norris Cole was 0-for-3 from that distance) and allowed Parker, who scored 19 points with eight assists, to face one less defensive pest. Chalmers has been sort of brutal since Game 3 of the East Semis, but I’ve got to think that if he had a chance to get going this game might have played out much differently.
  •  It’s official. Scott Brooks is coming back next season. Most expected that to be the case. But listening to Jeff Van Gundy on the call reminded me of how I thought he could have been in play had Sam Presti pulled the plug on Brooks. Instead, the Spurs are one win closer to allowing me to see if my Pop theory will soon play out.
  •  Again, great game. And, again, let’s not overreact to LeBron’s unfortunate situation. Give the Spurs some credit. They ended the game on a 31-9 run and went 14-for-16 in the fourth quarter, including a 6-for-6 clip from 3-point range. It helped that LeBron was injured. But San Antonio came and took this game back.
  •  Game 2 is Sunday night.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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