SAN ANTONIO — Unable to explain exactly why his left leg cramped up during the Heat’s 110-95 loss to the Spurs in Game 1 of the Finals, LeBron James nevertheless pledged Friday that he expected to be back to full health for Game 2.
“I’ll be all right, I’ll be in uniform on Sunday,” James said Friday from the Spurs’ practice facility. “I should be 100 percent on Sunday. Obviously I’m going to take it light today. Training staff said I should take it light today, give the body another day to recover. Tomorrow I should be back on my feet full go, and I got all day Sunday to get ready for Sunday night.”
Miami looked like a totally different team without its All-NBA First Team forward, giving up fourth-quarter runs of 10-4 and 16-3 while James was sidelined with leg cramps. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra compared James’ departure to a “punch in the gut” and James said after the game that he felt “frustration and anger” at the timing of his cramps.
Of course, the fact that the AT&T Center’s air conditioning system was not functioning during Game 1 loomed over James’ cramping.
“They were some extreme conditions,” James said. “I’ve never played an NBA game like it was last night as far as the heat. Not an excuse, but it was an extreme condition.”
The high temperatures in San Antonio have topped 90 degrees this week and the inside of the AT&T Center was nearly as hot during Game 1.
This was not the first time James has succumbed to cramping, not by a long shot. He was forced from Game 4 of the 2012 Finals against the Thunder with cramps, and he told reporters Friday the issue has dogged him since high school. James noted that he has had the issue investigated by doctors on multiple occasions over the years without any magic solutions turning up in the tests. He also made it clear that the Heat trainers put him through an elaborate preventative treatment program, and a simple lack of fluids wasn’t the issue.
“I hydrated as much as I could to the point where your stomach feels like it just can’t take anymore,” James said. “Last night it just got to a point where the body just had enough, just dehydrated. Between jumping and running, and cutting and sweating, and a little bit of everything, exhaustion, you know, the body just hit the shutdown.”
In Spoelstra’s opinion, James’ cramping resulted from the “extreme conditions” of the gym coupled with his franchise player’s determined, non-stop style of play. Spoelstra revealed that James took “seven cramping pills” during Game 1, while also receiving ice treatment and changing his jersey at halftime. Nothing worked, though, as James asked out of the game earlier than usual in the third quarter and then twice in the fourth quarter, because he felt his muscles locking up throughout his left leg.
“The biggest issue that I think is lost out there is how competitive LeBron James is when you get to this level,” Spoelstra said. “Most athletes pace themselves, it’s not a coincidence and a secret and why we have had the success we have had with the best player in the world, when he pushes his body past the point of regular limits for a competitive advantage. I think it’s an extremely admirable trait. … It was killing him being on that sideline. 99.9 percentile of people have never pushed their body to that level.”
James finished with a game-high 25 points (on 9-for-17 shooting), six rebounds, three assists and three steals but he only managed to play 33 minutes, his third-fewest of the postseason. Afterwards, he received multiple IVs and said he had trouble sleeping, because he was using the bathroom so frequently. The inability to control his muscles, and the impact of his absence, left James venting the day after.
“To feel like my body failed me last night, I was angry in the fact that I couldn’t help my team get over the hump,” he said. “In a huge Game 1, wanting to make a statement. … [I felt] disappointed in myself, angry at myself that I couldn’t be out there where I knew my team needed me the most. That was frustrating for sure.”
The Heat did not go through a practice on Friday, instead choosing to review film. Spoelstra said the plan is to practice on Saturday. James will receive treatment over the weekend and plans to attend practice on Saturday.
For their part, the Spurs extended both sympathy and a hope that James would be able to return for Game 2.
Tim Duncan, a native of the Virgin Islands, said that the temperature was “pretty bad” and that he hadn’t played in “anything like that since I left the islands.” He recalled a Game 7 overtime loss to the Mavericks in 2006, in which he played through cramps to score 41 points and grab 15 rebounds.
“There is no shaking [cramps] off,” Duncan said, when asked about critics who might question why James wasn’t able to play through the pain. “Your body is shutting down and you’re unable to move. Whatever is cramping, you’re unable to get away from that.”
Like a number of the Heat players, Tony Parker said that the higher temperature didn’t bother him, pointing out that he has played a number of high-level competitions in Europe in gyms that did not have air conditioning. Regardless, he said the Spurs want to complete their quest for redemption following their 2013 Finals loss to the Heat against an opponent at full strength.
“I want the AC to come back, I want to play the real Miami Heat, the two-time champs, with LeBron back,” Parker said. “I hope it’s not bad and I hope he’s going to be 100 percent on Sunday. Because as a competitor you want to play against the best.”
The Spurs issued a statement on Friday saying that the broken AC system has been repairedand that the arena should return to its usual conditions for Game 2.
Game 2 is set to tip at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday in San Antonio, before the series shifts to Miami for Game 3 on Tuesday.