The extended television timeouts had proven to be too brief, failing to provide the kind of rest that LeBron James needed in an intense game against a prideful, battle-tested team. James could feel himself wearing down after chasing around Kawhi Leonard, closing on shooters and battling for rebounds for the entire third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
So, when the Miami Heat entered the fourth quarter holding a three-point lead over the San Antonio Spurs, James asked Coach Erik Spoelstra for a breather.
“I told him I needed one,” James said, only three days removed from eliminating the Indiana Pacers with a dynamic performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
With his four-time most valuable needing to rest, Spoelstra made the unusual decision to sit him along with Dwyane Wade and opened the final period with a lineup that included Chris Bosh and reserves Chris Andersen, Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Norris Cole. The group maintained the same lead until James replaced Andersen but the Heat would falter the rest of the way, with some uncharacteristic miscues – turnovers and questionable shots – contributing to a 92-88 loss at American Airlines Arena.
“I thought we were a little fatigued,” Wade said. “We looked like a team that came off a seven-game series.”
Tony Parker’s incredible, broken play, game-winning trick shot with 5.2 seconds remaining secured the win for San Antonio, but the defending champion Heat was smarting afterward over some lost opportunities that eventually cost them home-court advantage in this series. After James returned with 9 minutes 1 second remaining, the Spurs outscored Miami, 19-12, forced four turnovers and limited the Heat to just two field goals.
“The fourth quarter was the difference,” James said after the Heat lost the first game of the Finals for the second year in a row. “I can see it on a few of our guys’ faces. Felt a little fatigued. Still a little banged up from that seven-game series. [The Spurs] looked like they were rested in the fourth quarter. They took advantage of that. In the closing quarter, we had some mental mistakes. And it’s a couple of teams you can’t have mistakes against, especially in the fourth. And San Antonio is definitely the number one team.”
James finished with a triple-double as he contributed 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists, but had a critical turnover with about six minutes remaining, when he had a pass intercepted by the long-armed Leonard. Parker spun around Cole for a wicked layup that gave the Spurs an 81-78 lead.
Backup guard Ray Allen then missed 1 of 2 free throws and Duncan tipped in a Leonard miss. The Heat’s next three possessions came up empty as Wade missed a driving layup, point guard Mario Chalmers lost the ball to Manu Ginobili and the Spurs forced a shot clock violation as Chalmers hammered the side of the backboard on an errant three-point shot. Parker followed with crossover dribble and a long jumper over Chalmers that pushed the Spurs’ lead to six.
“We had some poor possessions,” Spoelstra said. “There’s nothing really you can point a finger at right now until I go back to the film. There were a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers. And probably three or four possessions where we didn’t get organized where we typically get into and the ball didn’t go where it needed to go.”
The Spurs led 90-86 with roughly a minute left when James drove inside and kicked the ball out to Bosh, who missed a wide-open three-pointer. Bosh didn’t have any regrets about the shot.
“I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me, and every shot that I shoot I expect it to go in,” Bosh said. “Some do and some don’t.”
The 6-foot-10 Bosh finished with 13 points, reaching double figures for the first time since Game 3 of against Indiana. But he only had two points in the final period – and went scoreless the final 7:28 as he missed his last four shots – a driving layup, a short jumper and two three-pointers.
“Chris is one of our guys,” Wade said. “He felt he had the shot. He took it. If he hit it, it’s a different story.”
Wade vanished as well, missing his only two shots after replacing Miller. With his teammates playing passively, James was unable to takeover the fourth quarter as he had in previous games. When he tipped in a Bosh miss with 3:11 left, James ended an almost five-minute drought from his previous field goal attempt. He then missed a long, corner three-pointer before finally driving to the basket for a layup that brought Miami within 88-83.
Miami shot 5 of 18 and committed five turnovers in the final period. “I’m really looking at the 5 for 18 but the five turnovers,” Bosh said. “I think that was the game right there. These teams are too even to have five turnovers. If they give us five turnovers in the fourth quarter, we’re probably going to win, too. So we can’t make those mistakes.”
Spoelstra refused to accept that his team panicked down the stretch. “We’ve been in every situation you can,” Spoelstra said. “That’s not an excuse. We just didn’t execute and they did. Really, it came down to a handful of possessions. Those possessions were up for grabs. Whoever makes those plays wins the game and they did.”
“We had our chances to win,” James said. “We go into the fourth quarter with a three-point lead. So we had our chances. Against this team, you can’t make many mistakes.”
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