|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
SAN ANTONIO -- One thing can be said about the AT&T Center, the San Antonio Spurs' home arena that's set on a plain east of downtown between a golf course, Coca-Cola bottling plant and stockyards for the annual rodeos: You never know what sort of plague might attack next.
Be it bats swooping above the court, snakes in the locker rooms or extreme heat, there's always a potential surprise to shake up the combatants.
Ironically, the surprise that's hardest for LeBron James to handle is the heat, an issue he's confronted several times in his playoff career. Hot arenas can be James' kryptonite. When the air conditioning failed at the arena, it felled him in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, as the Spurs ran away from Miami 110-95.
"It was an unusual circumstance; I never played in a building like that," James said. "It was extremely hot in the building. Everybody could feel it, I was the one who had to take the shot."
This didn't affect everyone the same way.
"It was right in my wheelhouse," Ray Allen said.
"I don't care. I'm from Texas, man. We couldn't afford air conditioning in high school," Chris Bosh said.
|LeBron James scored a game-high 25 points, but leg cramps limited him to only five minutes on the court in the fourth quarter of Game 1.|
"It reminded me of the days at Cameron Indoor at Duke before they got AC," Shane Battier said.
"It felt like I was playing in the European Championship. We never have AC in Europe so it didn't bother me at all," Tony Parker said.
James can do things no one else in the NBA can. He is the envy of his peers for his extreme athletic gifts. But there is no doubt he harbors this particular weakness and it has surfaced in the playoffs before, when spring turns toward summer around the country. He's battled this for years.
The most memorable occurrence was in Game 4 of the 2012 Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when he was forced off the floor several times with leg cramps before hitting a crucial 3-pointer. But there have been other times in playoffs past as well.
There was a time when James used to carry around a gallon jug of water during the postseason, sipping from it throughout the day.
"Playoff sweat is different from regular-season sweat," he said back in 2011 when he was using that method.
James said he made sure to proceed with his normal routine to store up fluids leading up to the game. When the temperatures reached near 90 degrees on the court in the second half, he reached a critical mass.
As soon as he felt the humidity gathering in the building in the first half, James knew he was in trouble. He tried to load up on fluids at halftime, and there was a bag filled with lids from various drinks next to his locker after the game that provided the evidence. He changed his uniform, and the team's trainers applied ice to his head and neck to attempt to cool down his core.
But it was too late.
"It's something you try to prevent, I got all the fluids I need to get ... I lost all the fluids I was putting in the last couple of days," James said. "It was inevitable for me tonight."
James pulled himself out of the game three times in the second half, twice needing timeouts to stop the action. Eventually he was done for good with cramps all over his body with four minutes to play in a two-point game.
After he briefly returned to the floor and scored the last of his 25 points, James' legs immediately locked up.
"My muscles spasmed 10 out of 10," James said.
Ever since James said he thought the Heat's arena was a little too warm during the 2012 Finals, the team has made sure to blast the air conditioning whenever it starts to get warm in Miami. For some games, before fans fill up the bowl, it becomes legitimately cold in the arena during the playoffs.
Back in 2007, during a playoff game in Detroit on the first truly warm day of the season in the upper Midwest, the Palace of Auburn Hills didn't have its air conditioning sufficiently turned up. James ended up needing to get intravenous fluids before he left the arena after the game. James required an IV at least one other time following a playoff game when playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"It sucks at this point in time in the season," James said. "It's frustration and anger."
James and the Heat were all quick to point out the air conditioning snafu did not make a difference in the outcome of the game. The Spurs completely eviscerated the Heat's defense in the fourth quarter, making a remarkable 14 of 16 shots, including all six 3-point attempts.
Not having James, especially to chase Danny Green around as he did earlier in the game, was certainly a significant factor. Green scored 11 points in the fourth quarter after James was forced out. But it was the Spurs' overall mastery of ball movement and the Heat's slow rotations that decided the outcome.
"We're well-conditioned athletes; these are the circumstances that we have," Allen said. "I would've loved to have won the game and had a great story to tell, but we don't have that. These are the things you have to overcome to win championships."
James was to start receiving heavy doses of fluids Thursday night and will continue through the weekend to prepare for Game 2 on Sunday. The NBA's head of operations, Rod Thorn, said after the game the league expected everything to be in order by Sunday night.
Bosh needed two showers after the game. He sweated so profusely after speaking to the media in the sweltering Heat locker room that his first one had been rendered useless. By midnight, though, cool air was coursing through the building, leading to mentions of conspiracy that were only half in jest.
James, however, should not assume the building will be chilled for Game 2 or for any road playoff game for the rest of his career. He's gotten this message before, but it has become clear he's going to have to dedicate himself to managing hot conditions going forward. Just as he's remedied other playoff stumbling blocks, like an unreliable jumper and post game, he'll now have to focus on this.
"I have to put myself in position where I can be out there for my team," James said. "Sitting on the sideline ... is not good for us and not good for me."