MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/06 June) – Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, promised to go down to the wire as both teams took turns getting the lead and with no one appearing to be in total control. Alas, LeBron James had to be taken out in the fourth quarter for good after getting cramps allowing San Antonio to dominate both ends of the court for the remainder of the period.

San Antonio only had a two-point lead (94-92) when a visibly hurt James was forced to sit down with 3:59 remaining. That weakened Miami’s defense, which focused on closing out the Spurs’ pick-and-rolls, forcing San Antonio to commit many passing errors. Danny Green made eight unanswered points, six coming from two triples and two from a fast break, and the Spurs never looked back from there for a 110-95 victory.

Ironically, the heat inside San Antonio’s AT&T Center, whose airconditioning malfunctioned, may have taken its toll on James – and probably many of the others players too, as they have been used to playing in airconditioned venues. A camera caught a sitting James with an ice pack on his nape. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, however, did not make it an excuse, saying it was poor defense and 16 turnovers that cost them the game.

Maybe, but San Antonio also had more turnovers, a total of 22. I believe it was really James’ absence in the final quarter that made the difference. It loosened up the defense on Green, who made three triples that highlighted the Spurs’ 16-3 run after James left the court.

Besides, James, along with Dwyane Wade, was burdened with the scoring chores. Miami’s bench did not deliver. In fact, James and Wade combined for 25 of their team’s 49-point output in the first half. Chris Bosh and Ray Allen made 10 points apiece for the same period. Their role players like Shane Battier and Chris Anderson failed to complement the efforts of their starters. Worse, Allen shot poorly, missing five open three-pointers.

On hindsight, the Spurs must be harboring mixed feelings about that win. In chess, it’s like playing against somebody who has lost his queen while you still have yours. Any self-respecting athlete would want to win with his opponent in best form. The win would have been sweeter had James lasted the whole game instead of carried to the bench and declared unfit to play further.

The Spurs know that with or without James on the court they are capable of defeating the Heat as shown in last year’s finals that reached Game 7. Truth is, they readily shifted to a fast-paced passing game after realizing the inefficacy of their pick-and-rolls. Unlike the Indiana Pacers who lost in the Western Conference Finals to Miami mainly because of their inability to adjust to on-court situations, the Spurs play fluid basketball.

Nonetheless, a win is a win. And like in their first showdown, this promises to be another classic matchup. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])