This series promised to be an entertaining ballet of ball movement, continuing legacies and basketball played at the height of its potential. Someone didn’t tell that to the air conditioning unit in the AT&T Center. Following about 41 minutes of flowing hoops and celebrated competition, it all stopped when LeBron James couldn’t move. The King was not dethroned by the Spurs, but by the heat. Miami assistants had to lift LeBron and drop him into a chair like plunging a coin into the Riverwalk stream.
With about seven-and-a-half minutes left in the game, LeBron exited to get some rest. In most other circumstances, he doesn’t dream of coming out in the second half of a tight NBA Finals game. But his leg was even tighter. He took a rest and the Spurs went on a 10-4 run.
This was the moment that LeBron was supposed to come back in, fresh off a cramp that left him stale and take over the game. Lead the Heat to a win in the unforgiving warmth and fervor in the AT&T Center. It seemed as though he would do just that after he immediately drove the ball to the basket to cut the Spurs’ lead to two. He landed, and that was it. He stood there on the sidelines, hopelessly trying to move, trying to will his legs to move forward at least to the sideline. He could move his arms though, his left going to massage his thigh and his right upward in the air to signal his coach for a substitution.
Still, he couldn’t move his legs. He tried. He stopped. His buddy Dwyane came by and tried to help but he could only do so much. When LeBron was carried off, D-Wade couldn’t cook up a win even though he probably could have fried an egg on the court. The Spurs wouldn’t let him, they denied Wade the ball and forced a turnover. Danny Green felt the heat in his right hand. The good kind, hitting three three-pointers to clinch the win. LeBron clenched his teeth, watching hopelessly from the sideline.
But before that, this Game 1 was more of a Game 8 from last season’s seven-gamer. Afterall, these are the two best teams in the NBA. That David vs Goliath stuff from the Eastern Conference Finals? Gone. That thunderously bad matchup for the Spurs in the West? Done. This was supposed to be a series free of compromise. Free of what-ifs and circumstance. This was supposed to come down to execution, not involuntary muscle exhaustion.
It’s a shame this game ended in this way. With a fluke cramp that floored the best player on the floor. Fortunately, this was only Game 1 and LeBron has until Sunday to recuperate. “I need it. We’re going to start tonight, continue to get fluids in me and get me ready for Sunday,” James said in a statement. “Look forward to Game 2 and go from there.” After LeBron was heated and seated, there is only one way to go. Up.