SAN ANTONIO -- Did you hear that it was hot in the AT&T Center for Game 1 of the NBA Finals? We're talking pants sticking to seats making you not want to move, concourse running wet with perspiration hot. It was the kind of heat that brings MVPs to a standstill and causes sportswriters to complain about how unbearable it was to be watching one of the most heavily-anticipated sporting events of the year.
All of that is true, by the way. It was brutal for everyone in the arena, but doubly and triply so for the people actually trying to play a game under those conditions. That's why Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra shuttled players in and out of the lineup and that's why LeBron James had to leave the game early after suffering a debilitating series of leg cramps.
If it's anybody else, it's a footnote to a bizarre game that was at times beautifully played, but more often way too hectic and chaotic to get a proper read on in the immediate aftermath. But this was LeBron and predictably, people lost their minds.
His longstanding critics, of course, had a field day. They will never be silenced because they have never had any intention of being silenced and this latest development is like Christmas in June. Shots were fired left and right on Twitter, notably from people who were not in the building. Even Gatorade got into the act; James endorses Powerade, you see. With apologies to both, not even the magical elixir of marketing would be enough to save him.
"The best option for me to do was not to move," James said via a pool reporter after not doing his usual media following the game. "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."
If you thought we could get through a Finals without a referendum about LeBron's manliness or whatever, you are clearly new around here. It was yet another reminder that he's judged by a different standard, one that mandates that he figure out a way to move when his leg locks up completely.
Just as predictably, the Spurs didn't want to hear it after claiming Game 1 with a 110-95 victory, despite committing 23 turnovers. They rightfully pointed out that they played under the same conditions and made the plays -- and the shots -- that had to be made to get the win.
"I really feel that they were getting tired and I think we made the stops that we needed and we made big shots," Tony Parker said. "You know, when LeBron goes out, obviously you lose the best player in the world. So we realized that (and) we took advantage of that."
No, it wasn't as bad as the mid-80s when the Celtics and Lakers suffered through 100+ temperatures in an old building without air conditioning -- as opposed to a newish one with a malfunctioning cooling system -- but that didn't make it any easier. At a certain point there are no more degrees of hot. Hot is hot and damn, it was freaking hot out there.
"It was an unusual environment," Spoelstra said.
"Players were pretty dead," Popovich confirmed. "Kind of screws up the rhythm a little bit but it was mighty hot out there."
Photo credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
"I don't think I've ever played in anything like that since I left the islands," Tim Duncan noted.
"We never have A/C in Europe so it didn't bother me at all," Parker said.
Parker may have had a point. He logged a game-high 36 minutes, despite an ankle injury that he suffered during the conference finals that showed no noticeable side effects on Thursday. Score one for good old European toughness, right?
The official word was relayed to the fans in the arena at the start of the fourth quarter, a message that was greeted by boos from the home crowd because, you know, they were hot. The statement that was later distributed to the press midway through the final quarter at least made for a decent origami fan:
"An electrical failure for the power that runs the AC system in the AT&T Center has occurred. We are continuing to work on resolving the problem. We apologize for the inconvenience."
The NBA sent out president of basketball operations Rod Thorn to tell us that things happen, basically. "There wasn't anything to be done about it," he said. "We ascertained that very early."
Thorn said they expected the problem to be fixed by Game 2 on Sunday and they expect the game will be played as scheduled at the AT&T Center. Friday and Saturday's practice will be moved to the Spurs' facility while they work on the problem.
Even before James was carried off the court, the conditions cast an uncomfortable pall over what was an immensely entertaining opening act to a Finals that has the unenviable task of following up what was an all-timer of a 2013 series. The Spurs' turnovers usually mean death against Miami, but they shot almost 60 percent for the game, while making more than half of their threes.
"For us, that's the Achilles heel," Popovich said. "When we have games like that turnover-wise, invariably it's a loss for us. The turnovers are usually a killer. We feel very fortunate to have won this game tonight."
LeBron shouldn't have played through his cramps
•SBNation.comIf it were anyone else, there'd be more understanding for debilitating affects of very serious cramps in a sweltering environment. But because it's LeBron James, too many lose their minds.
They should feel fortunate because the Heat gamely hung in during the shooting onslaughts and had five players score in double figures. They even had a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Spurs cut it back to two with a little more than seven minutes left to play.
That's when James had to sub out because of leg cramps and that's also when Danny Green broke out of an 0-for-everything shooting night by burying a trio of triples that put the Spurs ahead for good. LeBron checked back in and made a layup before his legs gave out completely. The man literally couldn't move, so he came out again.
"At one point he was getting up with about three and a half minutes to go and I looked at him and said, ‘Don't even think about it,'" Spoelstra said. "You can't even move at this point."
With James gone for good, the Spurs brought it home with a 14-for-16 fourth quarter that saw them outscore Miami 36-17. Would James have made a difference against that kind of ridiculous shooting? Sure, of course he would have. If his legs worked, which they did not.
The good news is that we have two days in between games for the players to rest and hydrate while the necessary work is done to fix the problem. The bad news is we have two days of stupid to get through before we can put all this behind us and get on with a series we've been waiting for all year. You'd like to think that cooler heads -- and cooler temperatures -- will prevail, but this is LeBron James and empathy is no match for faulty air conditioning.