The San Antonio Spurs couldn’t prevent LeBron James from reaching a triple double, but with the kind of defense Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard used on him for most of the game and especially the fourth quarter, they forced the ball out of his hands, leaving it up to Tony Parker to give the Spurs a dramatic win in game 1 of the NBA Finals.
You can put your finger on a number of things that put the game in the Spurs’ control after the Heat led for most of the way, but eventually, it was Tony Parker, eating up the entire 24-second clock on the Spurs’ final possession, and somehow managing to hit a shot after the Heat, down 88-90 and hoping to get the ball with the same lead and 5-6 second to go, did an excellent job on the switch, forcing Parker to fall down.
Yet Parker got up and managed to pull off a shot with less than 0.1 left on the shot clock, pushing through James’ block and hitting a jumper that sealed the game with a four point lead (92-88) the Heat didn’t have enough time to erase. It comes down to these players, clutch or heroic or pure luck, whatever you want to call it, but this often makes or break a game, a series, and an NBA title.
Parker led the Spurs with 21 points, adding six assists on a 9-of-18 night from the field. The Heat did a good job most of the way on his pick & roll attempts with the right switches at the right time, but they couldn’t handle the ball movement for much of the way, and eventually Parker simply creating shots for himself off the dribble, especially when he was in one on one situations, including one spin move on Norris Cole the Cleveland State grad won’t forget anytime soon.
Tim Duncan looked like a 37-year old caught in the wrong place during the first quarter, but ended up with 20 points and 14 rebounds, but also 3 blocks as San Antonio allowed only 34 points in the paint, and kept everyone but James on very low shooting percentages from inside the paint, which forced Miami to take 25 three pointers (including 4, all misses, from Chris Bosh) while shooting only 57% from inside the paint, compared to a league best 67.2% during the regular season.
And there was Kawhi Leonard, that wasn’t huge on the offensive side, scoring 10 points, learning what it is to face LeBron James, but doing a great job defensively. He and Duncan looked attached at the hip as they both steered James again and again away from the basket, forcing the MVP to try and find open men instead of finishing down low on his own. James was still 5-for-5 when driving to the basket, but kicked out a lot more than he would have liked to, and the Heat shot only 25% on their drive-and-kick plays.
As for more on his job on James: James was only 2-of-8 from the field when facing Leonard (5-of-8 against everyone else), too many times holding on to the ball for too long, which usually means bad news for Miami when there’s no movement.
This wasn’t the perfect game for San Antonio offensively, shown by their 30.4% from beyond the arc and only 4 fast break points. It was their defense, keeping Miami on only 16 points in the fourth quarter, creating the room for Tony Parker to bring on his unrepeatable individual ability and win the game with a little bit of luck. The Spurs now have home court advantage, although we have learned that doesn’t mean too much. Knowing they could have played much better and still won the game, learning about certain things they do the Heat struggle to respond with, is the biggest victory out of game 1.