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Heat too much for James, Heat

By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor

San Antonio, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The maintenance staff at the AT&T Center figured out how to stop LeBron James.

The air conditioning at the AT&T Center malfunctioned and the San Antonio Spurs rolled to a Game 1 victory in the NBA Finals Thursday night. They used a 31-9 run at the end of the game to cruise, but the biggest story of the night came from a thermometer.

With the air conditioning on the fritz, ESPN sideline reporter Doris Burke held a thermometer that said over 90 degrees during the fourth quarter.

"I don't think I played in anything like this since I left the islands," joked Tim Duncan, who grew up on the Virgin Islands.

It was then that James became cramped. He asked out a few different times, but he left for good midway through the final 12 minutes. He was carried off the floor. He didn't return and his Miami Heat fell one behind in the race to four wins.

The Spurs released a statement in the second half.

"An electrical failure for the power that runs the AC system in the AT&T Center has occurred," the statement read. "We are continuing to work on resolving the problem. We apologize for any inconvenience."

Doubtful LeBron and the Heat accept the apology. They also weren't using it as an excuse or crutch.

"It was an unusual environment. Both teams had to deal with it," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "It felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limp back to the bench. We had an opportunity. They made the biggest plays in the last five minutes."

Lost in LeBron's limping was the fact that the Spurs finished the way they did.

San Antonio shot 14-for-16 from the field for a ludicrous 87.5 percent in the fourth. The Spurs went 6-for-6 from the 3-point line in the fourth quarter and one doesn't need to be John Nash from "A Beautiful Mind" to figure out that's 100 percent.

James' absence plays a huge part in that.

"Certainly could have been a different story, no doubt about that," acknowledged Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

James finished on the All-Defensive Second Team. He scored on the possession prior to be carried off the field like Rudy after he got his sack for the Fighting Irish.

James is a lightning rod. He's a punching bag, still hearing it at this stage in his career with four MVPs and 2 championship rings. He was getting criticized as far back as Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals when he passed to Chris Bosh for an open 3-pointer and the lead.

The haters neglected to mention that James drew Bosh's man, Roy Hibbert, also an All-Defensive Second-Teamer, and kicked to the open player who could have won the series. Or, in the simplest of terms, he did what he was supposed to do.

But that's enough for James' detractors. They'll say "Michael Jordan would never pass that." Guess they forgot why the world knows so much about Steve Kerr, or John Paxson.

On Thursday, the legion of hate rallied around the fact that he begged out in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Finals. They won't mention that the rest of the Heat players wilted like marshmallows being prepared for smores after his departure.

To those challenging LeBron's manhood, or greatness, try playing basketball on one leg. Just shoot around doing it, don't worry about playing the NBA Finals with one of your legs not functioning.

Yes, James has a history of cramping issues. So what? Had he rolled an ankle, or popped something in his knee would the rancor be as loud? Probably not, but an injury is an injury. If he couldn't play, he couldn't play.

Don't worry about the fact that James stood up ready to give it a go again with 3:30 left in the game and Spoelstra asked if he was nuts. Or, that he spent time hooked to an IV bag after the game. It's simple enough to just say he should've drank water, or ate a banana.

Certainly these were not ideal conditions to play a basketball game of that magnitude. But, both teams sweated through it and James was the only one who had to leave the game.

This game warrants no asterisk. The building was hot. Electrical malfunctions occur.

This game also doesn't taint LeBron's legacy. He couldn't physically move. That's enough for me, but it'll never be enough for some.

06/06 01:01:25 ET