SAN ANTONIO -- A dark pair of sunglasses shielded LeBron James' eyes as he made the slow walk from the postgame interview room to the team bus, stopping along the way to pose for a picture with "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks.
LeBron looked best afterward
The glasses looked out of place, as there are only a limited number of Americans who can get away with that look indoors and at night, and we're not all that comfortable with anyone aside from Jack Nicholson showing that degree of coolness.
But he did look cool, the shades bringing a funky enhancement to his clothing scheme of a white V-neck sweater and white pants (Country Club LeBron?).
In fact, it was probably the best -- or at least the coolest -- he looked all night.
Because when he was out on the court dressed in the Cavaliers' road blues, James looked like someone who was in over his head. There was a crosscourt pass that deflected off the rim and out of bounds. There was the time he dribbled the ball off his knees and out of bounds. There were several instances when he left his feet for jump shots and faded backward or to his left, throwing off his balance and leading to several of his 12 misses. There also were several times when Manu Ginobili sagged off him, practically daring him to shoot midrange jumpers, and James tried to force the issue instead, running into a wall of secondary defenders that he kept seeing nearly every time he approached the rim.
"I didn't play extremely well, definitely," James answered when told of coach Mike Brown's assessment that he had "struggled mightily." "Not just shooting the ball, but the six turnovers was uncharacteristic of me in the postseason.
"I have to play better, and my teammates know I'm going to bring my better effort in Game 2," James said.
James' final stat line read 4-for-16 for 14 points, with seven rebounds, four assists and those six turnovers. But the line that really stood out wasn't his final line but the one he had at halftime -- 0-for-7 from the field, a drought that did not end until 7:25 remained in the third quarter and he converted on a drive through the lane, scoring over Tim Duncan.
But after that bucket, the Spurs closed the third quarter with an 18-8 run, stretching their lead from five to 15. The lead eventually grew to 18 and stayed in double digits until the clock ticked inside of three minutes remaining, the Spurs never allowing James or the Cavaliers to make a final push as they captured Game 1 of the NBA Finals 85-76 Thursday night.
"I was pleased with our defense," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "I thought after the long layoff we maintained a pretty good intensity defensively. We were a little discombobulated to start the game offensively, but I thought defensively we kept our focus pretty good for 48 minutes, and that's what got us through tonight."
That defense held the Cavs to 43 percent shooting, but two more important stats were the Spurs' 13 offensive rebounds leading to 19 second-chance points, and San Antonio's 18-9 advantage in assists. LeBron had seven of those dimes, but he didn't look to pass in the second half as much as he did in the first half, and by the time he finally started hitting a few shots (James shot 2-for-4 for 6 points in the fourth quarter), it was too late.
Bruce Bowen was the primary defender on James for most of the night, and he decided to play James straight up rather than overplaying his right side and forcing him to drive left as several of his opponents in the Eastern Conference playoffs had done.
"I think he's too good to necessarily force in one direction. Any guy in this league, if you give them a lane and they're a scorer, they're going to take advantage of that, and I don't want to give him that lane. He's going to create some things, but I don't want to give him anything in the process," Bowen said.
So we walk away from this one not really shaking our heads at LeBron, but rather wondering if he'll adjust in this series as quickly as he did in the last one when he scored just 10 points in Game 1 against Detroit and took so much criticism for passing to Donyell Marshall for an open 3-pointer rather than going hard to the rack for a game-tying layup or dunk.
That ill-fated pass led to James growing up over the course of a single seven-game series faster than we've ever seen anyone grow. After Thursday night, though, people could be wondering if the player who had that breakout, transcendent performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals has kept something in the tank for the final burst.
Of course, it's much too soon to make that statement at this point.
It was, after all, only one game.
But if the Spurs keep playing as loosely and as confidently as they did in Game 1, and if James keeps looking his best after the games, not during them, that's the danger he faces -- being remembered for coming up short, not for getting this far.
Again, though, we're a long ways away from getting to that juncture.
"Hey, this is just one game, fellas. If I go out the next night and have a miserable game, it's just the opposite. It's not something you can be too happy with at this point, because at this time of the year it's how you react after victories," Bowen said.
Or, in James' case, how he reacts to a stinker. We'll find out Sunday.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
There they go again. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili put another playoff foe on the path to defeat.
SAN ANTONIO -- When the Cavs get together before practice Friday at the AT&T Center to watch film of their Game 1 defeat, they may just eschew everything but the fourth quarter.
While there were breakdowns all night long -- mostly due to the Spurs' unrelenting defensive scheme and movement -- they may have found something to build on during the game's final 12 minutes that could help them the rest of the series. While it may have seemed hollow after falling down by 18 points, in the grand scheme it could prove meaningful.
Certainly the Cavs may not have been prepared for how aggressive the Spurs' defense was, especially on LeBron James as he faced a steady stream of attacking defenders. But part of their trouble was an apparent lag from playing the Pistons and their particular style of dealing with the Cavs.
The Pistons didn't do much different on James -- save for a curiously lethargic stretch in Game 5 -- than the Spurs did. They, too, used traps and double teams to prevent James from driving and to badger him until he gave it up. If anything, Detroit may have been even more proactive because they employed a half-court trap for long stretches.
However, the Spurs did a much better job of cutting off James' escape routes. In the Eastern Conference finals, often the Cavs got away with just spreading the floor and waiting for the defense to collapse on James. When he would deliver an outlet pass there was often a spot-up jumper to be had or, at the very least, a charging defender to exploit.
For much of Game 1, though, the Spurs knew exactly where the Cavs were going to be and did a much better job of positioning and closing out. This is a large reason why James, who had a 3-to-1 assist to turnover rate in the first 16 games of the playoffs, had just four assists and six turnovers.
Until, that is, the fourth. For whatever reason, whether it was the Spurs letting down a little or the Cavs finally adjusting, Cleveland did a much better job of moving without the ball than earlier in the game. This freed up many of their offensive options, and it showed. Nearly half of the Cavs' assists and a third of their points in the paint came in the stretch run. After shooting 36 percent in the first three quarters, they made 11-of-18 shots in the fourth.
Not only was Daniel Gibson, who scored nine of his 16 points in the final 12 minutes, able to finally find some open spots on the floor, but Anderson Varejao and LeBron were able to start effectively mixing in effective high pick-and-roll plays.
Adjustments after early failures, especially from James, made the difference in the Cavs' victory over the Pistons. They've got a base to operate from in trying it again versus the Spurs.
"We've got to make adjustments in Game 2," James said. "I'll definitely be ready to counter some things they did."
-- Brian Windhorst
LeBron James continues his career acceleration in comparison to Michael Jordan, even getting past MJ's nemesis, the Pistons, much faster than MJ did.
1st playoff series win:
1st conference finals appearance:
1st conference finals opponent:
1st conference finals result:
1st NBA Finals appearance:
-- ESPN Research
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Contributor
LeBron James might want to point out some salient thoughts about stopping the Spurs ... before it's too late.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
SAN ANTONIO -- 85-76? Yawn. Look just at the final score of this one and you might think it was a real clunker.
Yes, there were moments of clunkiness, but look a little deeper and you'll see the offenses didn't really perform that badly. San Antonio, in fact, was quite good. The Spurs scored 85 points in 80 possessions, for an offensive efficiency mark of 106.3 -- which is actually better than the Spurs' playoff average of 105.9, believe it or not.
More surprisingly, Cleveland didn't fare too badly, either. The Cavs had 76 points on 79 possessions for an offensive efficiency rating of 96.2. That's bad, yes, but hardly off the charts -- for instance, Miami was considerably worse during its four-game sweep at the hands of Chicago.
So why was the game so numbingly low-scoring? It's all about the pace. Look at those possession numbers again. The Cavs had 79 trips! That's amazing -- even the snail-like Pistons, the league's slowest-paced team, averaged 88.2 possessions per game during the postseason.
But wait -- weren't there 20 fast-break points scored in this game? Didn't Manu Ginobili dribble through a guy's legs in the open court? It wasn't like the teams seemed afraid to run, right?
Yes. However, when they didn't run, they ground things to a screeching halt. It's telling that it took 23 seconds before the game's first shot went up -- the whole night was like that. The teams routinely ran the shot clock down to single digits, most notably Cleveland while running its have-LeBron-dribble-aimlessly-at-the-top-of-the-key play.
"There were times when he would just pound, pound, pound, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble," Cavs coach Mike Brown said.
And to make matters worse, many of the combined 24 offensive rebounds (including two "team rebounds" by the Spurs, a stat the NBA currently sweeps under the rug) were resets, with the rebounder bringing the ball back out rather than going up for a quick shot.
All told, then, each possession in this game took an eternity. Consider that to finish a game with only 159 combined trips, the average possession by both teams has to last just over 18 seconds.
San Antonio did a lot of the damage in that department. Thanks to all the offensive boards they pulled back out, the Spurs had four trips that lasted 38 seconds or longer. Included in that total was a mammoth 48-second possession in the third quarter when they pulled out offensive rebounds twice.
With all those long possessions, no wonder the score stayed so low. But don't blame it on bad offense. Just call it long offense. If the pace picks up in Game 2, so will the scoring ... even if the shooting doesn't. And despite the fact that neither team is a run-and-gun outfit, it seems this game was an extreme outlier in terms of pace. So expect a more normal rate of shots on Sunday; hopefully a few more points will come with it.
-- John Hollinger
SAN ANTONIO -- They were trying, America. There was tangible evidence Thursday night, in spite of the final score, that the so-called Big Boring and his eternally droll San Antonio Spurs actually tried to do some entertaining in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
They looked as loose as they ever have on this stage. They had Tony Parker squeezing off 13 shots by halftime. They couldn't stop Manu Ginobili from winding the ball behind his back on the dribble at seemingly every opportunity ... except for the two times he bounced it between Daniel Gibson's legs, once successfully.
The Spurs also nearly uncorked what might have ranked as the most highlight-worthy play in team history: Ginobili scooping up a loose ball spilled by LeBron James, weaving out of traffic with some of that Diego Maradona dribbling and shoveling it forward to Parker, whose ambitious lob to the aforementioned Big Boring proved just a fraction undunkable for Tim Duncan to corral on an alley-oop.
I swear, every time LeBron gets the ball he likes to hold it for three or four seconds to look at the defense. That pause helps the defense. I'd love him to mix in some catch, rip and go. That would get him layups sometimes.
Salute the Spurs. They played well all game, and then they finally managed to get those outside shots to fall. They finished 6-of-16 from downtown, which is just one make better than Cleveland's 5-of-15. But San Antonio outrebounded Cleveland by 11. That's not something the Cavaliers are used to.
Fouls, for the record, were about even. 16 called on Cleveland, 15 on San Antonio. This series could get very physical if they're going to keep calling so few fouls.
Plus/minus from Popcorn Machine: so, want to guess who was the best Cavalier? Daniel Gibson was +4, but Anderson Varejao was +5. Only other Cleveland player in the black was Donyell Marshall. Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas were both -18. Bruce Bowen led all players at +12.