For Spurs, royal defense

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SAN ANTONIO — One of the most anticipated debuts in NBA Finals history was way, way off the mark.

A LeBrick, if you will.

LeBron James couldn’t solve San Antonio’s stifling defense and the pick-and-rolling Spurs, as fundamental and selfless as ever, outclassed Cleveland in an 85-76 win over the Cavaliers in Game 1 last night.

Tim Duncan had 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, and Tony Parker added 27 points for the Spurs, who began their quest for a fourth championship since 1999 by putting on a basketball clinic for the Cavaliers, finals rookies, who have a ton of work to do if they have any intention of making this a competitive series.

With the eyes of Texas, a curious hoops nation and the world upon him, the 22-year-old James, who has rarely failed to rise to any occasion, flopped like never before on the game’s grandest stage.

James shot just 4-for-16 from the field and finished with 14 points against the Spurs led by Bruce Bowen, San Antonio’s secretary of defense, who got plenty of help from his teammates in grounding Cleveland’s soaring superstar.

“It is going to be an incredible effort the entire series,” Duncan said of keeping James in check. “I know he will come out stronger in the next game.”

This was not the series opener James — or the NBA — had hoped for. His first foray into the finals was hyped in the days leading up to the game as many wondered if he could deliver the way Michael Jordan once did.

But James came nowhere nearing matching Jordan’s first game in the finals when he scorched the Los Angeles Lakers for 36 points on June 2, 1991.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday night in San Antonio. Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) will be in Cleveland.

The Spurs, who lost twice to the Cavaliers during the regular season, seemed to be one step ahead of James all night. When he cut left, they cut him off. When he tried going right, they were right there. By the time James made his first outside jumper — a 3-pointer with 6:54 left — the Spurs had built a 74-59 lead.

The 31-year-old Duncan, labeled boring because of his lack of flash, did what he always does: dominate.

The Big Fundamental knocked down open jumpers, freed up teammates with crunching picks and generally had his way against Cleveland’s frontline for San Antonio, which was lifted by its crowd’s incessant chants of “Go, Spurs, Go.”

“It felt like we played a month ago,” Duncan said. “It was just good to get out there and get some of that rust off, kind of get back in the flow of things. Our shooters didn’t shoot great, you could see that, but we played well all around the defensive end and we got it done.”

James, who began 0-for-8 from the field, finally got his first basket with 7:15 left in the third quarter, blasting down the lane through a pack of Spurs to hit a scoop shot that brought the Cavaliers within 46-41.

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