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In First Game Of NBA Finals, The Heat Goes Cold


Time now for sports.


MARTIN: Every once in a while, the intrepid Mike Pesca has to take one for the team, go out in the field for a tough assignment. You know, watch some basketball, work on his tan. He is in Miami covering the NBA finals.

Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: I don't work on the tan. It just comes to me.


MARTIN: You know, it's no work. It's just easy.

PESCA: It just - the sun remembers my Mediterranean roots and, bam, I'm dark.


MARTIN: OK. So, back to the task at hand, you are there covering the NBA Finals; the Miami Heat lost their first game to the San Antonio Spurs by four points. But this is like Miami's thing, right? I mean they've done this before - they've lost their first game of the Finals.

PESCA: Yeah, they've lost the first game of the Finals and came back last year and won every other game after that. In fact, they - since the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosch era began, so for the last three years, every time they've lost the first game they've won every game after that in the series. And that certainly seems like a trend. The other big trend going on is every time in this playoffs that they've lost a game, they've come back and crushed their opponents.

MARTIN: So, what gives?

PESCA: Yeah. Well, there are a couple of ways to analyze this. One is - and the Heat players do acknowledge that this is a real thing, that energy is involved - but, you know, I would also kind of caution us in that we are cherry-picking statistics a little bit. They have had six five-game playoff series, and, you know, and three of them I talked about - the one game they lost was game one. But twice they lost a game four and once they lost a game three. So, is it really that stark? But the thing we come back to is what the players say. LeBron James says, you know, sometimes it takes a loss for us to get edge. And I was talking to Shane - you see, so, LeBron has to kind of be hesitant. He can't really admit to a lot of things that are obvious, lest 4,000 sports talk radio guys jump down his throat.

So, I was talking to Shane Battier, who is a little more comfortable with the media. And, you know, he gave a couple of good points of analysis. One, is that after a loss, he says the wax clears out of their ears. They're more receptive to the coaching and the coaching is usually pretty good. And then he just flat-out says we play harder. One thing we could change is our energy and our effort and we do. And after a loss, we flat-out play harder. You know, it's not that we're not playing very, very hard but we're up against other teams. And the energy sometimes does change, so there was that acknowledgment.

MARTIN: Do you think that the teams that they play kind of build that in to their strategy?

PESCA: Not at all. And this is the thing that you ask the Heat. I mean, when you have this statistic, this huge weird statistic hanging out there, you have to ask everybody. And not only do the Spurs deflect that, like what are you supposed to do if you think that that is true? What are you supposed to do if you think that some more energized Heat squad is coming your way? There's really nothing practically you can do, so you say a cliche, which happens to be very true and comforting, which is, you know, all we could do is we're going to play our games and try to execute the best we can. Kawhi Leonard, the guy whose primary responsibility was defending LeBron, was just about the worst interview ever yesterday when I was asking him questions. I mean, everyone was, but, you know, he was like LeBron still got 18 points, you know, he still had a great game, you know, he's still a great player. I'm like but 18 points is the fewest he's gotten in two years. Is that an accomplishment? Absolutely not. Our only accomplishment is winning. But you know what, so, as a reporter I'm like give me something, Kawhi. If I were on the Spurs or a Spurs fan, that's exactly what you want. No, we've accomplished nothing.

MARTIN: OK. Second game is tonight. What should we look for? Who's going to win?

PESCA: This is a good question. I cannot answer that. I think I am bound not to answer that. I will say that if the Heat loses - they were calling this a must-win. Of course, they really want to win. You don't want to go to San Antonio and play three games down two-nothing. If any team could do that, it's the Heat. But there will be a couple of days off between games and everyone will be going crazy. There'll be a lot of pressure. You know, in feminist theory, they talk about the male gaze G-A-Z-E, and I think in sports we have the Heat gaze. Everything we do is through the prism of the Heat. So, we all think it's up to the Heat to change. Some of this is that Tim Duncan is so steady. But the Spurs are a different team than those other teams that the Heat have come back and swept in those five-game series. I mean, they're a great, great team.

MARTIN: OK. Real quick - curveball.

PESCA: Yeah. I was at the Haiti-Spain soccer game. Spain, the best team in the world. The Haitians - and they went up 2-0 early and they were not going to lose - but the Haitians scored a goal. They actually scored a goal with about 70 minutes into the game, and they all started chanting (Foreign language spoken). What is this (Foreign language spoken)? It means you cannot believe this. I thought that was a wonderful chant in a sports setting. The president of Haiti was there. They were all going crazy. The guy who scored the goal had the name of his mother and his son, who was born Friday, written on his jersey.

MARTIN: Aw, very nice. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.


MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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