SAN ANTONIO — “Beat the Heat!” had a whole new meaning in a sweltering start to the NBA Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs handled the conditions, and the team, and it sure helped when a suffering LeBron James couldn’t make it to the finish.
Tim Duncan had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and the Spurs beat the Heat 110-95 on Thursday night in Game 1 at steamy AT&T Center.
With an air conditioning failure making it feel like a sauna and causing James to battle cramps that knocked him out of the decisive stretch, the Spurs pulled away to win the opener of the first finals rematch since 1998.
“After I came out of the game, they kind of took off,” James said. “And it was frustrating sitting out and not be able to help our team.”
Manu Ginobili had 16 points and 11 assists, Tony Parker added 19 points and eight assists and the Spurs — 6 for 6 in NBA Finals Game 1s — shot 59 per cent.
“Just very proud of my team,” Parker said. “We kept believing, kept pushing. We know it’s not easy.”
They host Game 2 on Sunday — likely in cooler conditions.
James finished with 25 points but played only 33 minutes, and Miami was outscored 36-17 in the fourth quarter.
“It sucks not being out there for your team, especially at this point in the season,” James said.
Dwyane Wade had 19 points and Chris Bosh added 18, but the Heat wilted in temperatures that soared to 90 degrees in the second half.
“It was tough on both teams,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They were pretty dead. We tried to get guys in and out. … It was really hot out there.”
James, who had cramping issues two years ago in the finals, had to ask for a break in the fourth quarter and was getting treatment during a 15-4 Spurs run that turned around the game.
James came back in and made a basket that cut it to two points with about 4 minutes left, but couldn’t even run back on defence, promptly putting his hand up and lingering at the baseline until help arrived to take him off for good.
“I think it felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limping like that back to the bench,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Danny Green followed with 3-pointer to trigger what became a 16-3 run to end the game.
“You could see the heat was getting to a lot of guys. If I played as many minutes as he did, I’d probably be cramping up, too,” said Green, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the final quarter.
The crowd chanted “Beat the Heat! Beat the Heat!” late in the game, which was just what the fans themselves were trying to do.
The Spurs said an electrical failure for the power that runs the air conditioning system had occurred. They apologized for the inconvenience but also seemed to poke fun of it, playing songs with “hot” in the lyrics over the sound system.
Fans were trying to cool themselves on the hot night, a reminder of what it was like in the old Boston Garden when the Celtics and Lakers got together.
The Heat are the first team since those Celtics of 1984-87 to get to four straight finals. They are well-rested after a relatively easy roll through the Eastern Conference playoffs, a key to keeping Wade healthy entering the finals.
James was the MVP of the series last year when the Heat rallied from five points down in the final half-minute of regulation to win Game 6 in overtime, then won a Game 7 that was close the whole way for their second straight championship.
A rematch was widely anticipated and was close almost throughout. The Heat led 86-79 after Bosh’s four-point play with 9:38 remaining in the game, but it was all San Antonio from there, and Wade said there were problems even beyond James’ absence.
“Obviously, tonight we would’ve loved to have him in there to finish the game, but we’ve got to finish the game better,” Wade said.
The Spurs ended up extending their NBA-record straight to eight straight home playoff wins by 15 or more points. Their roster is filled with international players, such as Parker and Ginobili, who both said they were used to playing without air conditioning overseas.
Bosh, scoreless in Game 7 last year, scored Miami’s first five points in the Heat’s 7-2 start.