Cramps excuse carelessness in Finals Game 1

Tim Duncan had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and the Spurs beat Miami 110-95 on Thursday night in Game 1 inside a steamy AT&T Center.

Regularly throughout the NBA playoffs, we’ll be checking in with former Raptors head coach Butch Carter for an insider’s perspective on the X’s and O’s that lead to W’s and L’s. Today, Coach Carter breaks down the impact of air conditioning and the Spurs’ carelessness with the basketball.

San Antonio should not have won Game 1.

I say that with two main factors in mind: the rate at which the Spurs turned the ball over against Miami and the unavailability of King James.

Canned Heat

Much is being made of the cramping issues that forced LeBron to sit out most of crunch time, and it is not merely a case of the media grasping for storylines. The reality is that the failure of the air-conditioning system at the AT&T Center had an effect on Miami’s best player. It’s funny, because early in the game somebody on Twitter made a comment along the lines of “If the heat in the arena isn’t working, LeBron is going to need to drink a ton of Gatorade”—a reference to his history with cramping. I had a chuckle at that, not thinking that the future was being foretold. Clearly LeBron has a body that uses up a lot of his natural electrolytes, and when it does, it shuts down.

In my time in the NBA, I experienced broken AC, and if a player isn’t used to playing in that kind of environment, it can alter their game. It tends to be a bigger problem for teams that share arenas with a hockey club, as the heat draws humidity up from the ice underneath the court. I’ve seen games called because of that.

Really, it’s the oldest trick in facility management—I even did it back when I was coaching high school. It used to be that you could just go to the janitor and get him to turn the boilers up. Let’s just say you have to be a little more creative in these big modern facilities.

Still, there’s no question LeBron’s cramping had a major impact on the outcome. When he left the game with four minutes left, he had just scored a layup to pull Miami within two points. They lost by 15.

Ball Control

The short answer as to why the Spurs turned the ball over 22 times is they made a lot of bad passes. It was a problem that was compounded by the fact that Miami is a team that loves to shoot the gap, which is to say they are aggressive in disrupting passing lanes. If you were to form a triangle with two San Antonio players at the perimeter forming its base and a third in the post, Miami is a team that instead of standing behind that third Spur atop the triangle will front him to try to intercept the pass. That’s shooting the gap.

Normally you can nullify that with the pass fake, but we didn’t see that last night. Instead, a lot of San Antonio’s passes were cross-court or bounce passes. A bounce pass into the post takes a lot longer to reach a teammate than a direct pass would, and it makes it easier for the Heat to pounce on the ball.

Odds and Ends

– At the end of the fourth quarter we were treated to the Danny Green Special. The Heat, without LeBron, were getting into help position. In one sequence, Dwyane Wade went into the post to help defend a drive by Boris Diaw, which left Green open for a three. Then there was Green’s fast-break dunk and the other three-pointer. By that point it was too late for Miami. That’s part of the problem when teams go small. It requires defenders to help more, which leaves you vulnerable to a really good shooter.

– I’m disturbed by Chris Bosh’s presence—or lack thereof. His overall lack of aggressiveness is bad for Miami. I acknowledge he isn’t expected to dominate against Tim Duncan, but he should be able to make better decisions against Tiago Splitter. A perfect example was a play in the fourth where Miami threw the ball into Bosh, who had already decided to drive right. Splitter took three steps, anticipated the move the whole way and drew the charge. Splitter could see it coming from 15 feet away. Bosh’s basketball skills have simply deteriorated. It’s not like he has something in reserve that he’s holding back.

Ultimately, San Antonio was still fortunate to walk out with a win. If you turn the basketball over against the best transition team in the league, normally you’ll be in trouble. What’s more, since the Big Three teamed up in South Beach, Miami has dropped the first game of a series six times and gone on to win it anyways. So this wasn’t anything devastating for them. The second game is always extremely important for both teams, and Sunday will be no different. But for Miami, losing last night shouldn’t prove to be catastrophic.

For more insight and analysis on the NBA playoffs, follow Coach Carter on Twitter @TOButchCarter

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