NBA Finals: LeBron James gets “smoked out” in Game 1


LeBron James, coping with cramps during the fourth quarter of the Heat’s Game 1 loss to the Spurs in the NBA Finals. (Robyn Beck / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES)

SAN ANTONIO – Before he was crippled by cramps and had to painfully watch the Miami Heat crumble in his absence, LeBron James was already perturbed by the sweltering conditions at AT&T Center. In the first half of Miami’s 110-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, James could be heard on television complaining to his teammates about the faulty air conditioning and suffocating heat.

“They’re trying to smoke us out of here,” James said.

James tried to counter the “smoke” by loading up on fluids, placing ice packs and cold towels on his neck and even changed his uniform at halftime. The temperature on the court was around 90 degrees but the conditions did little to slow James through the first three quarters, as he scored 23 points. James had 10 points in the third period, drilling a pull-up three-pointer from the left corner seemingly without even looking at the rim and another three-pointer above the arc that gave the Heat a 78-72 lead.

But as the game wore on, and his second jersey began to look more maroon than red from the loss of fluids, James started to fatigue. James missed jumpers on consecutive possessions and raised his hand, signaling to Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra that he needed a breather. He hobbled to the bench with 7 minutes, 31 seconds remaining with the Heat leading by two.

“It was extremely hot in the building,” James said.

When he returned, Miami trailed, 94-90. James quickly went around Boris Diaw for a layup, proving to be a destructive, unstoppable force – until his leg stopped moving. The Spurs couldn’t slow James but the four-time MVP eventually had to succumb to the humidity and his own well-built body.

“It was the whole left leg…the whole left side,” James said. “The best option for me to do was not to move. I tried and any little step or nudge, it would get worse. It would lock up worse and my muscles spasmed 10 out of 10. Best thing for me to do was just not to move, and, you know, it was frustrating.”

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich wouldn’t deny the influence that the extreme temperatures – which came as the result of a power failure that shut down the arena’s air conditioning unit – had on both teams.

“I think everybody got a little tired or dehydrated for sure,” he said. “I’m sure that both teams are going to be happy that we have a couple of days before the next game and hopefully we can pay our bills.”

James encountered cramps in Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder and had to be carried off the court. He returned to the game and hit a huge three-pointer to lead the Heat to the victory.

Grumbling on the bench, glaring at the body that betrayed him at the most inopportune moment, James rose up from his seat and approached Spoelstra and asked if he could get back in the game.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Don’t even think about it. You can’t even move at this point,’ ” Spoelstra said.

James hobbled to the end of the bench and hunched over as the Heat only made one field goal the rest of the game.

“I was going to try to give it a go and Spo said ‘No,’ ” James said. “You know, after I made that layup we was down two and, you know, as well as they played we still had a chance. You know, after I came out of the game, they kinda took off. And it was frustrating sitting out and not be able to help our team.”

Spoelstra said being without James down the stretch was “a punch in the gut” but he didn’t want to use his absence as an excuse for the Spurs’ 16-3 closing run. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the other members of the Heat’s all-star trio, were on the floor but neither scored in the final 6:31. Wade missed his final three attempts and Bosh didn’t take a shot.

“We had opportunities. We was up seven and they cut it real fast, which they’re going to do,” Wade said. “Good teams make runs and not let it go too much. Most important for us is we don’t want to make mistakes, coming down the stretch. Whether it’s fatigue, whatever the case may be, you can’t give them open looks and they buried us with those open looks. We played a phenomenal game on the road up to that point, and they played a better last five minutes to win the ballgame.”

James was quickly turning his attention to having two days to get prepared for Sunday’s Game 2. “I need it, I need it, I need it,” he said. “Thankful for the fact that I can get on it…and put myself in a position where I can be out there for my team for the long haul. And sitting on the sideline, you know, if I’m not in foul trouble, is not good for us and not good for me. Look forward to Game 2 and go from there.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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