SAN ANTONIO — The cheer rained down on the AT&T Center with the sort of irony you simply can't script.
"Beat the Heat!" the San Antonio Spurs' fans yelled Thursday night.
The Spurs did just that in stealing Game 1 of the NBA Finals, not only beating the two-time defending champion Miami Heat 110-95 but surviving an in-house malfunction that made for a memorable and surreal setting. A power outage allegedly killed the air conditioner, bringing the temperature on the court to a balmy 89 degrees.
Eventually, it killed LeBron James' night too.
Like the rest of them, James kept asking for more water. Another cup. Another blow. Another obstacle in this journey that taken so many unique twists and turns in these last four years. But he could go no further with 7:31 left in the fourth, his left leg cramping so badly that he asked coach Erik Spoelstra to take him out of the game.
By the time he came back three minutes later, a two-point Heat lead had become a four-point deficit and the words spoken by James not long before had seemed to come true. "They're trying to smoke us out of here," he said, caught by ABC's microphones.
"After I came out of the game, they kind of took off," James told a pool reporter after the loss. "And it was frustrating sitting out and not be able to help our team."
The Spurs piled on after the most fortunate of circumstances, as James came back briefly thereafter but left with his teammates carrying him to the bench with four minutes left. He could only watch as a key game slipped away. The Spurs piled on from there.
"All of us were feeling the heat," Spurs star Tim Duncan said.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich added, "Hopefully we can pay our bills."
Danny Green hit a three-pointer, then another, followed by a Boris Diaw layup and an 11-3 San Antonio run to finish the game. Spurs point guard Tony Parker played just fine despite his sore left ankle, scoring 19 points. Duncan had a team-high 21 points as five Spurs scored at least 13 points and they survived 23 turnovers.
"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.
Asked how the Spurs took control in the fourth quarter, Duncan said simply, "We stopped turning the ball over. ... We kept pushing and found a way."
The game that some had so cleverly deemed "Game 8" started with the Spurs taking the early 26-20 edge after the first quarter and Ginobili continuing this postseason of his redemption. His confidence had been crushed by this team a year ago, the competitive spirit that drew Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford to him when the Spurs drafted him 57th overall out of Argentina back in 1999 all but gone.
But there was Ginobili leading the way like always in the first quarter, hitting three three-pointers that put the Heat on their heels and setting up Patty Millls for a late first-quarter three as well. James' frustration was palpable from the highest reaches, whether the four-time MVP was being denied at the rim or spun like a top in the lane with no foul call coming his way. The Spurs' MVP, that being Duncan, hit all three of his shots in the first quarter.
The Spurs' 54-49 halftime lead was the product of their own persistence, as they staved off a number of Heat runs and the masses were reminded of how evenly matched these two teams are. And just as Ginobili had sparked his group early, it was the bane of the Spurs' existence, Heat guard Ray Allen, whose three second-quarter three-pointers kept them close. It was a role player's paradise to that point, though, and the Spurs' Marco Belinelli buried two threes of his own to assist. Duncan, same as he ever was, had hit six of seven shots for 15 points at the break.
"Just very proud of my team," Parker said. "We kept believing, kept pushing. We know it's not easy."