With 31.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, there stood the San Antonio Spurs holding a 90-88 lead over the Miami Heat just after LeBron James had knocked down both of his free throws to bring the Spurs’ lead to two points.
From there, Tony Parker would put himself in the Finals highlight real with one significant play. Parker and the Spurs would drive the ball up the floor and after running down the clock, Parker got caught dribbling with James hovering over him. At times it looked like Parker was going to lose the ball as he even fell to one knee, but he was able to regain his balance and shoot a shot that went off the backboard to give his Spurs the game clinching basket 92-88 with 5 seconds remaining.
“It was a crazy play,” said Parker after the game. “I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn't work out like I wanted it to. At the end I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I was happy it went in.”
After reviewing the play, the referees determined the shot was good. Parker and the Spurs would go on to hold their four-point lead and steal game one in Miami, 92-88, while taking away home court of the series from the Heat at the same time.
After the Heat scored the first basket of the game off a Spurs turnover, the Spurs would go on a quick 9-0 to open the game with a 9-2 lead. The ball movement was in play but then the Heat would call a timeout.
When returning from the timeout, the Heat would respond with an 11-2 run to reclaim the lead. The Heat would win both the first (24-23) and the second quarter (28-26) as they took a 52-49 lead into halftime.
While everything was going right for Miami (shooting 51% from the field, making 6-of-15 three pointers, Dwayne Wade and James combining for 23 points, assisting on 13 of 20 made baskets), the Spurs seemed to look rusty as they shot 43% in the first half and their transition defense seemed to be an issue as Miami kept attacking them with most of their players out of position to score 28 points in the second quarter.
The Heat’s lead would get as high as nine points, but when the dust cleared at halftime, the Spurs found themselves down just three points. Tim Duncan, who went 0-for-5 in the first quarter, poured in 12 points in the second quarter. Parker and Danny Green also had nine points each while Manu Ginobili was guiding the Spurs’ bench with six points.
Kawhi Leonard got two early fouls and only played 14 minutes in the first half, but as the second half approached, so did Leonard and the Spurs’ top-rated defense.
In the third quarter, the Spurs’ defense began to clamp down on the Heat and force Miami into shots their offense wasn’t comfortable taking. Wade scored just four points in the third; while James boosted his stat sheet numbers, he only scored two points in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Spurs kept a balanced tempo to limit the Heat’s opportunities in transition.
The Spurs and Heat would end the third quarter dead even with 20 points apiece and though San Antonio could never get over the hump (shooting 6-of-17 from 3-point range on mostly open three pointers) of reclaiming the lead of the third quarter, they continued to hammer away and the rock was getting smaller as the Spurs went into the fourth quarter down three points.
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Spurs’ rock would finally crack as they were able to regain the lead off of Parker free throws. The defense, more specifically Leonard and the Spurs’ help defense kept James out of the paint and forced the Heat into five turnovers in the quarter and shots they didn’t want to take.
The Spurs would continue to build their lead as Green looked like he put the final dagger into the hearts of the Heat, as he made a 3-pointer with 2:13 remaining to give the Spurs a seven point lead.
However, James would respond with a layup and then Ginobili would gamble by taking a missed 2-pointer that would eventually lead to the Heat cutting the game to two. After two Duncan free throws, the Heat found themselves down four and with 1:02 left, Chris Bosh was left open on the wing for a wide open three pointer. He would miss, the Spurs would secure the rebound and the game would follow toward the crazy Parker shot.
Bosh though, shot 6-of-16 in the game for 13 points, while he missed all four of his 3-pointers. After the game, his own coach Erik Spoelstra, even made an interesting comment regarding his big man.
“He was open,” said Spoielstra of Bosh on the play. “Probably open for a reason at that point.”
Parker would finish with 21 points, threw six assists and commit no turnovers. The Spurs as a whole committed just four total turnovers, two in each half. Duncan finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds while Ginobili added 13 points off of the bench. Danny Green finished with 12 points and knocked down four 3-pointers. Leonard, had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The saying is “defense wins championships.” As the Spurs now sit three games wins away from their fifth championship, that statement could never have been any truer than in the fourth quarter of game one. The Spurs’ defense held Miami to just 16 points in the entire quarter and Miami’s big three of James (6 points), Wade (0 points), and Bosh (2 points) were taken out of their element as they combined for just eight of the Heat’s 16 points in the quarter.
Leonard and the Spurs’ defense forced the Heat “Big 3” to take 47 shots for 48 points in the game. Leonard specifically, stayed in front of James and had help in the paint if James got past him. James spoke of this after the game.
“They did a good job of putting two guys on the ball,” said James. “When I got the ball, they kind of shrunk the floor and set a guy at the elbow and dared me to pass the ball. I know my guys will be there to knock those shots down the next game.”
The Spurs hold a 1-0 lead over the Heat as the two teams will now have two days to make adjustments as they prepare for Game 2 on Sunday in Miami. Magic Johnson had an interesting take after the game; it’s a point that could tell how this series will end for one team.
"Watching this game,” said Johnson, “the Spurs can get better. Miami can't."
Johnson has a strong point. The Spurs were rusty as they shot 42% on the night and only made 7 of their 23 three pointers. The scary part for Miami is that a majority of the Spurs’ 3-pointers were open and shots they usually want to take. The Spurs only tallied 16 assists due to the poor shooting, but they were still able to run their system.
As the series continues in the following weeks, what will the Heat do when the Spurs start knocking down their shots while also improving even more defensively?