James asked for a rare breather to start the fourth quarter and Miami was able to maintain a three-point lead with their leader out for the first three minutes. But his return didn't spark the Heat, and the Spurs kicked their game into a winning gear Miami was unable to match.
After the physical pounding the Heat and LeBron endured during their seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers, the level of effort to keep up with the Spurs remains the same, although in a different way, as Windhorst reports.
Not only was James working to remain a presence in the paint and on the glass, but he was also keeping an eye on perimeter shooters. So while playing Indiana required the endurance of a distance runner to continue grinding through the physical play, the Spurs require more sprint plays with short bursts required to cover inside and out.
"It is tough. But it is what it is," James said. "I put myself in a position to try to do everything for this team, a little bit of everything, and put myself in a position to win. It's very challenging mentally, physically. But you have to figure out a way to just have will at this point of the season. There's not too many days left. There's no room for excuses."
Wade and Bosh showed up big in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but James was left to do the heavy lifting for the bulk of the series against the Pacers. The cumulative effect of carrying the load for the Heat throughout the playoffs showed up in Game 1.
With an extra off-day in the Finals, James has more time to recharge and get ready for Game 2. But he will need some help to lead the Heat to another NBA Championship.