LeBron held to 14 points, gets little help in ugly opener
SAN ANTONIO — It could be argued that the Cavaliers still haven’t played their first game in the NBA Finals.
After waiting 37 years to advance to its first championship series, Cleveland barely showed up Thursday in Game 1 at the AT&T Center, falling 85-76 to the three-time champion San Antonio Spurs.
The final score was deceiving, as the Cavaliers trailed by 18 early in the fourth quarter before staging a purely cosmetic rally behind LeBron James, who finished with 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists and six turnovers.
“I didn’t play extremely well,” James said. “Not just shooting the ball. The six turnovers were uncharacteristic of me.
“I have to play better. For us to win, I have to play better.”
That’s not the only issue facing the Cavaliers. If the outcome is going to be any different in Game 2 Sunday at 9 p.m., they are also going to have to devise a strategy to slow down Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
“It’s a series,” James said. “Things happen. They’re up
1-0. We’ll make adjustments and get ready for Game 2.”
Hounded by Bruce Bowen or Manu Ginobili all night and double-teamed any time he even looked like he was about to go to the basket, James had just eight points with seven minutes to go in the game.
“He struggled mightily tonight,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “They did a great job.”
James got no help from his two highest-paid teammates. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (two points, 1-of-8) and Larry Hughes (two points, 1-of-5) also dented the rims as Cleveland’s big three went a combined 6-of-29 from the field.
Were it not for Daniel Gibson (16 points, 7-of-9), Drew Gooden (14 points, 6-of-9) and Sasha Pavlovic (13 points, 6-of-12), there’s no telling how ugly things might have gotten for the Cavaliers, who had just nine assists as a team while getting outrebounded 43-32.
“We’ll make some adjustments, but one of them won’t be a lineup change,” Brown said when asked if Gibson might start in place of the ailing Hughes (partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot) in Game 2.
As bad as Cleveland’s offense was, its defense was worse against Duncan (24 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks) and Parker (27 points, four rebounds, seven assists), who took turns beating the Cavaliers from inside and out.
“Tony gets to the rim all the time,” Duncan said. “That’s no knock on the Cavs or anyone else. With his quickness and ability to get to the rim, he gets in there almost at will.”
James got nowhere, as he missed his first eight shots. The 22-year-old’s initial field goal did not come until he scored on a strong drive to the hoop with 7:15 to play in the third period.
“There were times when he would just pound, pound, pound and shoot a three,” Brown said.
By the time the third quarter ended, James was 2-of-12 from the field and the Cavaliers had been outscored 24-14 in the period, leaving them behind 64-49 going into the final 12 minutes.
“LeBron didn’t have a great night,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Sometimes shots don’t fall for people.”
Parker and Duncan had their way with the Cavaliers, with the former continually breaking down Cleveland’s defense and the latter dominating the paint.
Things got so bad that James had to start defending Parker instead of Hughes, who was beaten on drives time and time again. The result after Cleveland switched defenders on Parker was that Ginobili (16 points, eight rebounds) started getting to the hoop at will.
“(Parker) was terrific,” Brown said. “When he wanted to get to the rim, he did most of the night. He had us on our heels.”
The Spurs led 40-35 after a truly ugly and forgettable first half that featured 0-of-7 shooting by James.
As a team, the Cavaliers shot 36.1 percent over the first two periods (13-of-36), with starters James, Ilgauskas and Hughes going a combined 2-of-17.
The truly remarkable thing was Cleveland actually led 25-22 midway through the second quarter, as San Antonio went through a 12-minute stretch where it missed 13 of 15 shots and scored just six points.
Though James had already sat on the bench for more than two minutes at that point, Brown tried to get his star a little more time, only to have the Spurs score seven unanswered points in just 26 seconds.
San Antonio extended that run to 11-1 after James returned to take its biggest lead of the half, 33-26.
With Parker getting anywhere he wanted on the court, the Spurs also started the game on fire, making seven of their first nine shots in racing to a 16-10 lead
Cleveland tightened up its defense at that point, but James never did get going.
With Bowen and Ginobili taking turns harassing him, he missed a baseline fadeaway, had a shot rejected on the right block, bricked a 3-pointer and missed a 22-footer from the right wing in the first quarter, then missed an 8-footer on the baseline, an 18-footer from the left wing and a floater in the lane in the second quarter. James’ only points in the first half came on four free throws.
Duncan had 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks at halftime, while Parker had 12 points, three rebounds and five assists. Those two players accounted for 11 of San Antonio’s 17 field goals in the first half.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.
WHO: Cleveland at San Antonio
WHAT: Game 2, Spurs lead best-of-seven series, 1-0
WHEN: Sunday, 9 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Center, San Antonio
TV/RADIO: Channel 5; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
LeBron James found little room to maneuver Thursday in Game 1 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio as Spurs forward Tim Duncan (top right), guard Manu Ginobili and forward Bruce Bowen (lower right) made life tough on the Cavs superstar.