The San Antonio Spurs, swiftly and frightfully, stole both the win and the home court advantage away from the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, taking the contest by a 92-88 score over the defending champs. And yet, as surprising as the result may be, this wasn’t the story of the evening.
The real story was this group of aging Frankenstein’s monsters, coming to life after the bolts were screwed in, some week and a half after its last waddle through Geneva.
Take, for however long you need, the time to understand just how tough it is for a team like the Spurs to go 10 days between NBA basketball games and then dive right back into the speed and chaos of a pro basketball matchup seemingly without losing a single step.
Then factor in the difference in San Antonio opponents, between the sluggish and obvious Memphis Grizzlies’ exacting attack, and the quick-witted and speedy Miami Heat.
After that, toss in the recent experience of the opponent, considering that the Heat were forced into dragging themselves toward their highest level as defending champions while gritting their way toward downing the Indiana Pacers in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.
Mix all that together, and ask yourself how – how in the world – the San Antonio Spurs managed to come out in Game 1 of Thursday night’s NBA Finals and act as if none of these mitigating factors mattered one iota.
The Spurs executed on both ends to a ridiculously effective degree, turning the ball over just four times over 48 minutes against what was a typically-active and lengthy Miami Heat defense. San Antonio missed 16 of its 23 three-pointers, but several of those looks were wide open attempts, while the Spurs’ spacing seemed purposeful and potent despite the relatively-low 92-point output.
Somehow, out of hibernation, the San Antonio machine rolled on, barely needing neither a quarter nor half nor full game to prime the motor and get the parts moving again. Tony Parker hit a 19-foot bank shot while dodging the long arms of LeBron James and “jumping” off of a crouched position to seal the win in the final minute. Tim Duncan fooled everyone with an up-fake and drive on San Antonio’s last scoring possession before that. The San Antonio defense turned LeBron’s scoring aptitude into an afterthought. And following it all, coach Gregg Popovich glared and acted as if the four-point win was beneath him the post-game press conference.
Your usual Spurs, you should reckon.
As was the case during Indiana’s finer moments against Miami, and Dallas’ run towards the title two years ago, San Antonio made it so Miami seemed incapable of determining the rhythm of the game. San Antonio lost the lead midway through the first quarter and failed to grab it again until midway through the fourth, but Miami never seemed in charge, and James was unable to string together enough scores of his own to put San Antonio away. With Chris Bosh out of sorts and Dwyane Wade unable to spring his way toward a needed 25 points, the onus falls on LeBron to take over and score in bunches, and yet San Antonio was primed to turn him into a facilitator.
James, to his credit, was fantastic in that role – he dished 10 assists alongside his 18 points and pulled in a much-needed 16 defensive rebounds (18 overall) for a Heat team that has embarrassed itself on the glass in these playoffs. Those 18 points were just not enough, though, as San Antonio clouded things long enough for LeBron to be chased out of post-up opportunities, while second-year forward Kawhi Leonard’s length and patience made life difficult for LeBron when he attempted to drive or hard dribble his way toward scores.
James wasn’t passive, the game just got away from him – credit the Spurs 13 times before you dismiss James for letting Game 1 go to waste. And after that dismissal, look toward Chris Bosh (who has absolutely destroyed both the Spurs and Tim Duncan in the past) for continuing to act like Raef LaFrentz.
Heck, LaFrentz actually took his three-pointers from the corner during his finer moments. Bosh stuck himself on the elbow extended, missing all four of his three-pointers (open shots that San Antonio conceded, mainly because Tim Duncan can’t be expected to guard players out to 24-feet at his age) on his way toward 13 points on 16 shots. And Dwyane Wade, once again, was lost in the miasma – attempting just four free throws and finishing with 17 points on 15 shots.
This is because of the Spurs, you know. Don’t forget that, when the cable TV nabobs take over between now and Sunday’s Game 2. James, Bosh and Wade showed signs of all of the mitigating factors listed above during the Indiana series, but it took a focused and unrelenting attack from San Antonio to expound on Indiana’s outline. Miami has a lot to think about, but the credit has to go toward San Antonio’s end before the criticism toward the Heat washes up on the South Beach shore.
Until that Game 2 hits, recognize what San Antonio has done. Peeling off near-perfection like this in the groove of a playoff series or regular season run is impressive enough. Putting all of this together in the team’s first game since May 27th? Against the defending champs? Without even knowing who their opponent would be until late Monday night?
That’s some strong stuff. That’s some San Antonio Spurs stuff.