The NBA Finals tipped off on Thursday night with LeBron James and the defending champion Miami Heat hosting the San Antonio Spurs. After a nine-day hiatus in the wake of their four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs showed no signs of rust in Game 1. They topped Miami, 92-88. Howard Beck, who covers the NBA for the New York Times, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: The Miami Heat entered Game 1 as heavy favorites, but the Spurs took away home court advantage. They lead the series, 1-0. What happened?
HB: Tony Parker happened. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and was fantastic and hit one of the most amazing, unlikely circus shots after a circus possession, really. It was funny because when someone asked LeBron in the press conference [Thursday] night, he said, “Really? You’re going to make me live that again?” The other thing that happened was the Heat, who are pretty precise in crunch time, generally speaking, and especially in playoff games, really kind of came apart.
BL: LeBron James, meanwhile, put up 18 points, he had 18 rebounds and 10 assists as well. What does he have to do for Miami to win? Even more than that?
HB: He had a fabulous game in a lot of respects. It was a fairly quiet triple-double, I have to say. You know, 18, 18, and 10 is never anything to sniff at, and I think most nights that LeBron puts up numbers like that the Heat are probably going to win. But it wasn’t a dominant game, and they also just did not get enough from everyone else. [Shooting] 5 for 18 with 5 turnovers in the fourth quarter is not going to win too many games in the NBA Finals.
BL: San Antonio forward Tim Duncan won his first NBA title back in 1999, his most recent championship in 2007, and now, at the age of 37, he’s three wins away from his fifth ring. How does he keep it up?
HB: Tim Duncan’s kept himself in fantastic shape, and for the most part hasn’t had the kind of serious injuries over the course of his career that might derail some of the great players. So credit him for keeping himself in great condition … but also just, again, having that great fundamental game that just has never gone away. And he’s got great players around him.
BL: Alright Howard, we’ve reached the point where I ask you the inevitable question: do the Spurs keep it up and win their fifth championship or do the Heat make it two in a row?
HB: Well, I thought this series was a tossup from the moment we knew what the series was because I thought the Heat, they’re not last year’s Heat. [Dwyane] Wade is dealing with a sore knee. So I wasn’t, you know, so sure about the Heat, and I have a lot of faith in the Spurs in general and what they do because they’ve always been that kind of team that will not shoot themselves in the foot. So I picked the Spurs in seven at the start. I clearly have no reason to change that pick. I do think we will see much more from the Heat to come. This will be a competitive series. I still see the Spurs winning this in six or seven.