NBA Finals Shootaround: It’s Dark, and San Antonio Is Hot

So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You’ll find takes on moments you might’ve missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.

A Mini Oral History of the AC Game

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Kirk Goldsberry: It was early in the first quarter when members of the media on press row began to notice that it was unusually hot in the AT&T Center. Small beads of sweat trickled off our wrists down onto our keyboards. It was like the Battle of Monmouth out there. But it wasn’t just the reporters who were struggling. The abnormally hot gym was also affecting the athletes on the court. After the game, everyone was talking about the sweltering gym conditions. For some guys, it was a throwback to their pasts.

Tim Duncan: “I don’t think I’ve ever played in anything like this since I left the Islands.”

Dwyane Wade: “If you’ve played basketball, you’ve played basketball where it’s hot like this.”

Tony Parker: “Me personally, it didn’t bother me. Felt like I was playing in Europe. … We never have AC in Europe so it didn’t bother me at all.”

The NBA sent president of basketball operations Rod Thorn out to address Thermostatgate from the league’s perspective.

Rod Thorn: “I can recall playing in games in Boston Garden, I can recall playing in games in Chicago Stadium … where the atmosphere in the arena was very hot. … Had the referees felt at any time … that the conditions on the court were such that the game should not be continued, then they would have come over and said something to me. [They] never did. … In live sporting events, sometimes things transpire that you don’t expect. Obviously the conditions were the same for both teams, and it’s just one of those unfortunate things.”

Gregg Popovich: “It was probably tough on both teams. Players were pretty dead, so we tried to get guys in and out a bit more than we usually do. It was mighty hot. … I think everybody got a little tired or a little dehydrated. I’m sure that both teams are going to be happy that we have a couple of days before the next game.”

Duncan: “It got to a couple different guys, cramps started setting in, but I thought Pop continued to switch guys in and out and keep us as fresh as possible.”

Erik Spoelstra: “It was an unusual environment out there. … Both teams were trying to manage the best you could. We were going deeper into our subs, quicker subs than you’re used to seeing. … With five [minutes] and change it’s a great ball game; it’s up for grabs regardless of the circumstances.”

Manu Ginobili: “We would go to the bench and see cold towels everywhere, and I didn’t realize back then. And then when we went to the locker room at halftime, whew, we were sweating more in the locker room than we were on the court.”

Nobody was affected more than the best player in the world, who ended up missing the last few minutes of the game and could only watch from the bench as his team got blown out.

LeBron James: “I lost all the fluids that I was putting in the last couple of days out there on the floor.”

Wade: “You don’t want to see your best player come out of the game at winning time.”

James: “It sucks not being out there for your team, especially at this point in the season.”

Spoelstra: “It felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limping like that to the bench, but at the same time we still had an opportunity to make plays going down the stretch, and they made the biggest plays. … At one point, [LeBron] 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. I mean, you can’t even move at this point.’”

The repairman has two full days to get in there and correct the problem. Game 2 is on Sunday night.

Popovich: “Hopefully we can pay our bills.”

The Chump Champ With Cramps

(GIFs and Photoshops by Jason Gallagher)

Andrew Sharp: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Long live THE CRAMP GAME.

Not the game itself, technically. When LeBron went down, both teams had been dead even the entire night, and everything was setting up for a classic ending. The cramps ruined all that. It sucked.

But afterward? That’s when the cramp game shined. When the takes began to fly. When the topic turned to the CHUMP CHAMP WITH CRAMPS. Then there were others, a lot more others, who went to great pains — but not, like, cramping pains — to educate the whole world about cramping, explaining to us that LeBron’s not actually a tin-hearted coward who doesn’t have what it takes.

So which is it?

Chump or champ?

Would MJ and Kobe have played?

The answers here are pretty simple. Kobe definitely would’ve tried to fight through it and stay on the court. He tried to play on a ruptured Achilles for god’s sake. Same with MJ, history’s greatest psychopath. Bird, too, probably. Would any of them have been successful with the entire left side of their body seizing up with every step? Probably not!

It’s easy to look smart debunking a bunch of idiots on Twitter, but I don’t think any rational person actually thinks LeBron let his teammates down. All the people criticizing LeBron last night would’ve found a way to criticize him no matter what happened. Some guy sent this tweet to Powerade before the game even started:

Mostly, it was just amazing to see how quickly the whole world lost its mind in both directions, and how screaming about cramps engulfed everything else about an NBA Finals game.

Some of it might seem unbearable in the moment, but just remember to savor the insanity for what it is, because one day we’ll laugh our ass off looking back on this. People rushing to defend him, people mocking him, people seriously calling him a coward, and then even some brands getting in on the action.

This might be LeBron’s ultimate legacy for fans who lived through it. No matter what he does, it always comes with these batshit crazy conversations, and they’ll probably never stop. Some people will hate him forever, and there will always be others who will snap and scream back, taking the bait every time.

But if I were defending LeBron? Just look at how horrible the Heat looked in that fourth quarter. Chris Bosh couldn’t do anything. Dwyane Wade was reduced to desperate jumpers. By the end, Mario Chalmers and Birdman were the only guys who could score. This is the team LeBron has turned into the most dominant in basketball the last three years. When he left, the Spurs stopped turning the ball over and scored 26 points in little more than half a quarter, while LeBron’s teammates scored seven points in seven minutes.

Hate him if you want, but in a weird way, LeBron going out just underscored how outrageously valuable he is to everything this Heat team does on either end of the court. He’s the guy responsible for all the open looks, for the easy buckets, for the defense that mostly held San Antonio in check right up until he went to the bench. He’s the linchpin for everything, the engine that turns a beat-up, old Heat team into a Ferrari. I’ve never seen anyone who’s that valuable to every other player on the court.

That lesson was there, too, if you looked past the shouting, and the brands, and the memes, and all the people screeching to defend him. We got the whole spectrum of the LeBron experience last night. Cramp game forever.

Chris Long: NFL MVP

Let’s Get Weird

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netw3rk: Weird game. It was fragmented — each piece having its own little theme. Cash Money recording artist Austin Mahone kicked us off with a crooning, blanco R. Kelly version of the national anthem. Then, each team took turns catalyzing these jagged mini runs, punctuated by uncharacteristically sloppy stretches of basketball, all while the AT&T Center (previously the site of a bat and rattlesnake infestation) became an increasingly miserable sweatbox because of a failure of the building’s ratchet-ass air-conditioning system.

The two weirdest (non-Bron) game fragments:

• In the third quarter, as the Spurs were throwing Pop-thrombosis-inducing passes lazily into the arms of the wrong team, Ray Allen picked Kawhi Leonard’s pocket, went the length of the court in a few galloping strides, stiff-armed Marco Belinelli, and dunked like it was 2004, part of a personal 6-0 run. The Spurs would give up 18 turnovers by the end of the third quarter, the most since Game 2 against Dallas, more than a month ago.

• Tiago Splitter provided clutch scoring. He was 4-for-4 in the second half, including an and-1 drawn on Norris Cole, bringing the Spurs to within one early in the fourth quarter. This was immediately followed by more Spurs turnovers and another six-point Heat lead, momentum looking decidedly swung.

The Stylist

Chris Ryan: Mon dieu, I love Boris Diaw. You take one look at him, especially in comparison to the Wolverine-like physiques most NBA players have, and you figure he’s just freebasing Escoffier classics. But something about these games with the Heat brings the athlete out of the overweight lover Heavy B. Against Miami on Thursday, Diaw scored two, grabbed 10 boards, and dished out six dimes, while putting up an absurd plus-30 plus/minus. I thought, carbonite freezing routine aside, Diaw did a decent job whenever he was called on to guard LeBron James while Kawhi Leonard was in foul trouble. And on offense, he was way more scalpel than butter knife. His six assists were surgical — often whipped, sometimes no-look, always in traffic, to cutters or wide-open perimeter shooters. The dime for one of the Danny daggers in the closing minutes of the game — fired from the baseline to the wide-open Green — was my favorite of the evening.

We’re going to remember this game for air-conditioning and cramps, but I hope we save a little space in the memory banks for The French Baguette. He was something else in Game 1.

Manuficent

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Danny Chau: The Spurs assisted on 75 percent of their field goals last night. Manu Ginobili was responsible for more than a third of those assists. There are better passers in the league, but none more evocative than Manu. His no-look passes from 20 feet out send the kind of jolt you’d feel watching Dominique Wilkins throw down a two-handed windmill. His one-armed feeds to Tim Duncan arc over defenders as though they were skyhooks. Maybe this is the lack of AC talking, but last night I saw vestiges of old iconic plays, reconfigured and decontextualized in real time as punctuations to Manu’s prose.

But really, Manu himself provided the perfect synopsis of the Manu Experience early on last night. It took 34 seconds for Ginobili to log his first stat in the box score. It was an assist, of course; his first of 11 for the night — a gorgeous one-handed bounce pass, skillfully bent between LeBron James and Rashard Lewis, to Tim Duncan for an uncontested layup.

Seventeen seconds later, Ginobili happened upon a loose ball for his first steal of the game. His first points would come on that possession pacing upcourt. He probed into the paint before circling out right above the break. Lewis was guarding him on the perimeter. Manu leaned in and extended his left leg before dragging it back toward himself as he squared up for a quintessential Ginobili step-back 3. On the following possession, he, of 36 years, blocked a driving Dwyane Wade with his off arm as the rest of his body was falling away from the play. All the good Manu Ginobili has embodied over his 12 seasons with the Spurs, distilled into 82 seconds of game time.

Text Messages to Pop From a Spurs Fan

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Shea Serrano: Gregg Popovich is a human with a cell phone, so I sent him some text messages during Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Me: Pop! Hey! Oh, man, I’ve missed you!

Pop: have you?

Me: yes, a ton, have you missed me?

Pop: have we met?

Me: right. got it. i forgot that you were a robot. hey, what’s it like not having emotions?

Pop: it’s OK. Christmas is boring.

Me: are you excited for tonight? Game 1!

Pop: is that tonight?

Me: … dude

Pop: i was gonna relax and watch a movie

Me: oh, for real? you watch movies? I had no idea. I figured for fun you just sat in a chair or if you were really turning up then you slouched a little in a chair for a moment

Pop: do you know what my favorite movie is?

Me: no! :) what is it?! is it an old war movie or something? that’s so perfect

[No response.]

Me: is it a political thriller?

[No response.]

Me: hello?

[No response.]

Me: HELLO?

[No response.]

Me: what a dick

♦♦♦

Me: not a bad first half there pop

Me: a few too many turnovers but overall it was OK

Pop: too many turnovers? I didn’t think it was enough turnovers.

Me: what?

Pop: have you ever been good at a job

Me: dang, man. that’s too heavy.

♦♦♦

Me: pop, hey, so my dad and I were talking today. what’s your favorite championship? his is ’99. mine is 2003. what’s yours?

Pop: how old is your dad?

Me: he’s 52. why?

Pop: is he in good health?

Me: what’s happening right now?

Pop: does he take care of himself?

Me: this has gone sideways. you’re about to say something mean. I gotta go, let’s talk later

♦♦♦

Me: POP OH MY GOD ARE YOU WATCHING THIS FOURTH QUARTER

Pop: trying to

Me: danny green what the hell man I didn’t even realize that he was alive. I thought you all were just letting his carcass wander around out there as a distraction like “OH MY GOD DANNY ZOMBIE” or whatever

Pop: it seemed that way for a bit

Me: how is he in the nba and he doesn’t know how to dribble?

[No response.]

Me: this fourth quarter is so dope

Me: I hope LeBron is OK

Pop: me too

Me: I was just kidding. I hope all of his vertebrae have fused together. I hope it’s a two-week ailment

Pop: don’t say that

Me: sorry

Me: chicken pox?

Me: polio?

Me: can I hope for those? can I hope for anything?

Pop: no. you wanna know what you can hope for that’d help me out?

Me: yes, of course!

[No response.]

Me: tell me and it’s done

[No response.]

Me: so what is it?

[No response.]

Me: HELLO?

[No response.]

Me: again? seriously?

[No response.]

Me: dude

[No response.]

Me: goddamnit

Filed Under: NBA, NBA Playoffs, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Lebron James, Boris Diaw, Chris Ryan, Andrew Sharp, netw3rk, Shea Serrano, Danny Chau, Manu Ginonbili, Erik Spoelstra, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Kirk Goldsberry

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