Here are my observations from Game 1 of the NBA Finals:
• From tipoff, both San Antonio and Miami were prepared to rotate defensively and anticipate the next pass. Off the San Antonio screen-and-roll, if the pass was made inside, the post man was met immediately by a Heat defender and the trap was set for the pass outside. When the Heat dribbled inside they faced a Spurs double-team, and the escape pass was tracked down by a San Antonio defender. Both coaching staffs love to tally deflections and had a field day adding them up during the first half. San Antonio was scoring second-chance points not off offensive rebounds but off Miami's tips.
• You can argue the Heat played better defense in the first half, but they were not capitalizing on offense, missing the open shots they knew the Spurs would give them by design. Rashard Lewis missed early. Ray Allen missed after hitting his first few shots. The Heat missed 12-of-18 uncontested shots in the first half. Meanwhile, San Antonio scored on 6-of-11 such shots in that span. Coach Gregg Popovich must have been happy with his team's effort, but must also have thought his team got lucky.
• Whether the Spurs' Tiago Splitter would be forced to sit -- if Miami dictated his minutes with a small lineup -- became moot in Game 1. Splitter played well enough at the start to warrant minutes later. Two minutes after being taken out, in fact, he came back to replace Tim Duncan. Only a turnover sent the Brazilian back to the bench.
• San Antonio outscored Miami by 30 points during Boris Diaw's 33 minutes. Normally, I do not put too much stock in plus/minus stats, but in this case they reflected reality.
Diaw came back from a summer with the French national team in the European Championships as a player who still prefers to pass to a teammate for a higher-percentage shot, but whose biggest difference is that he is making much quicker decisions. The Spurs infect their players with an urgency in decision-making -- they assume you will make the right read (or you will not remain on the team for long). The question is, will you make the read in time to produce an edge with an outstanding rotating defense like Miami's? Diaw ended up with one more assist than shot attempts.
• Manu Ginóbili started hot with three straight 3s. Ginóbili has begun his regular seasons recently with slow starts from downtown when it comes to accuracy, and then he warms up in December only to see his accuracy fall again -- the season's grind and the rodeo-dictated road trip lowers his shooting percentages.
"Manu got serious about his 3-pointer when he realized his legs were not always going to allow him to drive at will,'" says Alejandro Montecchia, point guard of Argentina's Olympic gold medalists in Athens in 2004, and an old friend from Bahía Blanca, Argentina's basketball-soaked Hoosierland. But Ginóbili started well in Game 1, which supercharged his confidence. and then he executed a slight adjustment that may have tilted the game.
Miami tries to trap the ball handler far from the basket and recover, making the entry pass into the key difficult. The Spurs will then pass to the wing, and the wing player tries to find someone inside the paint, looks to drive, or passes back outside. Miami was having none of it, and those passes from the wing were tipped or resulted in turnovers.
At the start of the fourth quarter, however, Ginóbili held on to the ball for a fraction of a second longer, and instead of giving up and passing to the man on the wing, he spied a cutting Splitter going into the lane and completed a pair of high-low passes. We call those plays in our telecast "Mercosur," referencing the South American economic trade association. The Manu-Tiago connection is a shining example that great things happen when an Argentine and a Brazilian work together. (It's always enjoyable to read stories on Brazilian sports pages about their "brothers" -- always in quotes, so as to not make their distaste subtle -- from Argentina, underlying the competitive nature of relations between the countries.) San Antonio had found a way to get the ball deep into Miami's defense with Ginóbili's risky and calibrated passing.
As Miami shaded more into the paint, and as the effect of the heat and humidity due to the broken AC at AT&T Center took its toll on players, the 3-point floodgates opened for the Spurs, who went 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter to decide the game.
• A word on playing conditions: I have now been present during Super Bowl XLVII's air-conditioning collapse in New Orleans, the electrical fire that shut down the Spurs and Timberwolves' regular-season game in Mexico City this past December, and now this in San Antonio. Are these events just coincidences, or perhaps do all the new digital platforms and added media from around the world require larger amounts of electricity?
I discount the comments from Tony Parker and Manu after the game about being used to playing in such conditions in their home countries. I have seen those gyms -- they are hot and humid, but they are not enclosed structures. There is always some air circulation, and they play for only 40 minutes while they are surrounded by much fewer than 18,600 fans in close proximity. During Game 1, we were praying no one would get hurt, and we sensed that some players, including Parker, were being conservative moving around the court with the ball, so as not to slip. The concourse floors in the upper levels were covered in condensation. The NBA was lucky no one was hurt badly.
Sitting Duncan for roughly the second half of the third quarter paid off for the Spurs -- it would not have happened without Splitter filling in capably. Duncan joined Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to record a 20-10 while shooting 90 percent or better in a Finals game. In contrast, LeBron James played the entire third quarter and the first 4:24 of the fourth quarter, then cramped badly.
The Heat can take solace that they lost in the midst of a freak occurrence, which coupled with a San Antonio strength and a Miami weakness (their bench depth) produced this outcome. If James recovers and Miami takes Game 2, the No AC Game in the NBA Finals will not be much more than a footnote.