SAN ANTONIO -- Here came LeBron James out of an unplanned stretch on the bench, with a head of steam in the sweltering AT&T Center. Thermostats clocked the temperature at 89 degrees, hotter than in Miami.
Hotter than it was outside in the heart of Texas.
The winning moments of the first game in this anticipated Finals rematch had arrived, and James was buckling under the oppressive heat. Like something you'd see at the YMCA -- or, as Tony Parker put it, in Europe -- the air conditioning broke at the NBA Finals. Then, the greatest player in the world broke down.
James crossed up Boris Diaw and bolted past him for a driving layup that cut the Spurs' lead to two points with 4:09 left. Then, just like that, he couldn't move. His entire left leg cramping, James waved to the bench, took a couple of baby steps, and doubled over.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra finally got a timeout called to stop the ensuing 5-on-4 onslaught. And in truth, without James on the floor for important stretches of the fourth quarter, it was as though San Antonio were on a power play.
"If you're not ahead of the play," Chris Bosh was saying after the Spurs took Game 1, 110-95, "there just always seems to be somebody open on that last pass."
Open, willing and able to make the Heat pay.
With James out for a three-minute stretch before that ill-fated layup, the Spurs went on a 10-4 run to turn an 86-84 deficit into a 94-90 lead. It was Danny Green -- 0-for-5 through the first three quarters -- who was open for the last pass now, drilling consecutive 3-pointers.
"He'll shoot anything," Bosh said.
And in the fourth, Green made everything -- 4-for-4, including three from long distance.
James came back, but he didn't last long -- didn't look right when he re-entered the game in the first place. Standing near the far sideline as the Heat got into their offense, James had both hands on his knees.
"I've never played in a building like that," James said. "It's been a while -- like a high school game or CYO."
As embarrassing as it was for the NBA to have its Finals played in conditions you'd expect at your neighborhood youth center, no one will bear the brunt of it more than James. Before the intravenous needle had even been removed from his arm, James already had become the butt of jokes and memes in the vast intellectual wasteland of Twitter.
"It was frustrating sitting out and not being able to help our team," James told a pool reporter after receiving IV fluids following the game.
After being carried to the bench by a trainer and teammate James Jones, James was visibly seething -- unable to grasp how he could be incapacitated in the crucial moments of a Finals game.
"It's frustration and anger," he said. "But at the same time, it's something that you try to prevent; you try to control. I mean, I got all the fluids I need to get, I do my normal routine I've done. It was inevitable for me tonight, throughout the conditions out there on the floor."
The conditions on the floor were caused by a 600-volt circuit breaker that tripped in a control room in the bowels of the arena, building workers said. Engineers tried to cool the breaker down and restart the A/C, but it was no use; the NBA Finals were being played in a sauna. Fans were waving folded programs in a futile effort to stay cool. Players draped cold towels on their heads on the bench.
"As the game started I was like, 'Wow, it feels nice and warm in here,'" Ray Allen said. "... It reminded me of when I was in high school growing up and I didn't have air conditioning in my gym. So I felt at home. I could get my body nice and loose."
At the first timeout, Dwyane Wade came to the bench and was drenched. James turned to Wade and said, "Looks like you played the whole game already."
At the end, it was no longer funny. For James, who has dealt with cramping issues in games before, it was infuriating. The most ferocious, unstoppable force in the NBA was rendered helpless, unable to move.
"Any little step or nudge, it would get worse," James said. "It would lock up worse and my muscles spasmed 10 out of 10."
Rod Thorn, the NBA's president of basketball operations, said league officials were told during the game that the problem could not be fixed in time to restore suitable conditions. A new circuit breaker will be installed Saturday, and Thorn said Game 2 on Sunday at this point is not in doubt.
"We do not foresee any problems at all come Sunday," Thorn said. "We think it will be fixed come Sunday and we will be able to play under normal conditions."
Asked whether the two days off before Game 2 would be helpful, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered this gem: "Hopefully, we can pay our bills."
The bizarre events left the Heat in a familiar place, down 0-1 in the Finals for the third straight year. They got a gift from the Spurs in the form of 23 San Antonio turnovers, and lost the 3-point battle by only one shot, 13-12. Yet without James over the final four minutes, "We let go of the rope," Allen said.
James, meanwhile, will have two days to get his body right and assess what's wrong with his rest and recovery program. Tim Duncan, 38, played 33 minutes without succumbing. Manu Ginobili, 36, played 32 -- 43 seconds fewer than James. Allen, 38, logged 32.
"I've cramped one time in my life," Allen said. "At that point, I was sitting on my couch and I cramped and it went away. So I really haven't had to deal with it much.
"Obviously, it starts the day before coming into the game, just refueling and resting," Allen said. "You've got to get the salt back into your body because you're expending so much of it. For him, he's got to find a way to keep getting Gatorade into his body on the bench and make sure he stays hydrated."
James said he drank plenty of fluids at halftime and even changed his uniform. The ice bags and cold towels the training staff gave him during timeouts didn't help.
Now, he faces two days of introspection, recovery and ridicule.
"We're going to start tonight, continue to get the fluids in me and get me ready for Sunday," James said.
Ready for anything, as James learned the hard way in Game 1.