The Spurs' Fourth Quarter: The Real Story We Should Remember from Game 1 of the NBA Finals
There were almost five full days between the end of the Western Conference Finals and the beginning of the NBA Finals. We all had more than enough time to speculate about how the Spurs and Heat stacked up, to dissect the x-factors from one side and the other, to debate legacies, and to give our predictions as to how this whole thing would play out.
For all the articles that were written, and for every angle that was taken, not one mentioned the temperature of the gyms the games would be played in, and I can’t think of one that discussed LeBron James’ proneness to cramping.
Now it’s all we’ll hear about for the rest of this series and probably beyond.
Things started to go a bit off the rails in the early going of the game, as a few scattered spectators could be seen fanning themselves off. Within a matter of minutes, every single person who could get their hands on something seemed to be fanning themselves with it, and everyone with a voice, whether it be in announcing the game or in 140-character Twitter blurbs, was talking about just how hot it was at the AT&T Center.
It was soon learned that the air conditioning in the building was on the fritz, and it looked like everyone would have to soldier on through the temperature; both those playing the game and those covering it. Heat puns ranged from terrible to insufferable and everyone seemed to stop paying attention to the excellent game that was breaking out to make jokes and tell stories about just how hot it was. To make matters worse, the best basketball player in the world got a cramp so bad that he could barely move, and had to exit a two-point game with four minutes left.
Twitter then transitioned from terrible heat puns to a fiery debate about cramping, with one side lambasting James for succumbing to his body basically shutting down, and the other lambasting those doing the lambasting for said lambasting.
It wasn’t pretty.
I’ll save you the soap boxing and pontificating, as I’m sure there are a million other places to find that stuff on the Internet today. Besides, we’re called numberFire for a reason. We care about the numbers more than we care about hearing ourselves talk about cramping, toughness in sports, and what makes a man.
Besides, while the world was caught up in cramping, the Spurs were beating the heat, beating the Heat, and beating records. That’s the story we should be following.
There were several interesting stories buried beneath all the ones about the temperature and the tendencies of the human body. Tim Duncan went and had the first performance of 20-plus points, 10-plus rebounds, and greater than or equal to 90% shooting from the field in the NBA Finals in over 40 years (in fact, he joined Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell as the only players to have ever accomplished that feat). Manu Ginobili became the first bench player to go for 15-plus points and 10-plus assists when he dropped 16 and 11. Even LeBron himself joined Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in the 4,000-point, 1,000-rebound, 1,000-assist club in the playoffs.
History is great and all, but what I'll remember from this game is the absolute clinic the Spurs put on in the fourth quarter.
The Heat entered the fourth up four and with a 62.67% likelihood of winning (according to our algorithms). Their lead then reached as high as seven points after a four-point play by Chris Bosh. The Heat looked well on their way to wrecking the Spurs’ streak of 10 straight Game 1 victories, 8 in a row at home during these playoffs, and the last 7 in a row at home by 15-plus points.
Then the Spurs dropped the proverbial hammer and added one more to each of those streaks, winning Game 1 by a score of 110-95.
San Antonio outscored Miami 36-17 in the fourth, and did it with only 20 possessions (resulting in a 177.2 offensive rating), including 26 points scored in the final 12 possessions (of which they turned the ball over once and missed one shot, but converted on every single other one).
They shot 14 of 16 from the field in the frame, 6 of 6 from long range, and 2 of 3 from the charity stripe. The resulting effective field goal percentage (weighted twos and threes) was 106.3% and the true shooting percentage (twos, threes, and free throws) was 103.9%. They had a nearly flawless frame, and essentially broke the metrics we use to measure efficiency.
Of those 14 made shots, 12 of them were assisted, resulting in an 85.7% assist percentage. They went 7 of 8 in the restricted area, 6 of 6 from deep, and 1 of 2 from mid-range. Their shot chart from the fourth should go next to the word “efficiency” in the dictionary of basketball. It shows how they favored shots near the basket (those are easier!) and from long range (those are worth more points!) over those from mid-range (those are almost as difficult as threes, but are worth the same as those near the basket!).
Ginobili was the only Spur to take a shot in the frame and not convert any, going 0 for 1 from the field (he's that one red spot above). But he’s forgiven for dishing out six assists in the quarter. Beyond that, Tony Parker was 3 for 4 and everyone else was perfect. The Spurs got 1 for 1 from Boris Diaw, 4 for 4 from Danny Green, and 2 for 2 apiece from Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Duncan. Parker hit one of the threes, Kawhi chipped in two, and Green chucked in three (he must've gotten the memo about activating Finals mode).
While the next few days will likely be filled with anecdotes about hydration, arguments about masculinity, and whole lot more heat puns, try not to forget one thing: We just witnessed one of the best quarters in NBA history, and that’s what's worth remembering.
Is it Sunday yet?