One of the toughest assignments for the Heat as it opened the NBA Finals on Thursday was trying to slow down Tony Parker.
For a while, Miami was able to do just that.
The fourth quarter was a different story. It was Parker’s story.
Parker, the MVP of the Spurs’ last Finals appearance in 2007, put up 10 points in the final 12 minutes as he helped San Antonio to a 92-88 Game 1 win at AmericanAirlines Arena.
His final shot came as time was running down on both the shot and play clock. His off-balance shot went over LeBron James and softly bounced around the rim before falling through. The Spurs had a four-point lead they wouldn’t give up.
“That’s probably why this series is great theater,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. “You have lots of compelling matchups, not only team matchups but individuals as well.”
Said Shane Battier: “The game is never decided by one shot. But that was a big shot.”
The Spurs have now won seven consecutive postseason games dating to the Western Conference semifinals victory over Golden State. In those wins, Parker has averaged 22.4 points. The 31-year-old guard averaged 20.3 points during the regular season.
Before Thursday’s game, Spoelstra said the Heat had to be aggressive when it came to defending the quick and shifty Parker. When Miami was able to have Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole stay close, Parker was more apt to dish the ball off.
When they sat back a touch, as Cole did in the fourth, Parker attacked the basket and made Miami pay for it.
And sometimes, it didn’t even matter what the Heat did on defense. Parker was going to score. The greats do that.
In the closing seconds, Parker hit a jump shot as the shot clock expired — it was reviewed — to give the Spurs a huge four-point lead.
In that sequence, Parker dribbled the ball around and even hit the floor before putting his off-balance shot over LeBron James with 5.2 seconds remaining on the game clock.
“It seemed like a 26-second possession,” Spoelstra said afterward. “They played it all the way through and then he was able to scramble. There were a couple of loose balls where it might have been a jump ball opportunity. Then he broke through. You just can’t leave it to chance. He made a tough play. Give him credit for that.”
Said Cole: “A couple of them were just tough shots. That last one on LeBron was a busted play, a tough shot.”
Prior to that dagger shot, Parker’s biggest make of the night came at the midway point of the fourth when he turned the motor on and roared to the basket.
Parker left Cole frozen as he spun around and hit the layup to give the Spurs their first lead since the first quarter.
That gave Parker six points in the fourth to that point. He ended with 10 in the quarter and 21 points overall.
Late in the fourth, the Heat changed up its defensive plan a bit as James came out to defend Parker. In the final two minutes in which James was on him, Parker scored one basket.
It was one big basket.
“We have to be aggressive. We have to be disruptive,” Spoelstra said before the game. “We have to be smart about it. We can’t be cavalier with our decisions.”