Tony Parker faces it all in Game 1
AMERICAN AIRLINES ARENA — Tony Parker stepped into the coaches huddle during the break in action. There were just five seconds left in the game and the Spurs clung to a two point lead over the Heat. Parker said something to a nodding Gregg Popovich, then turned around and walked into the players huddle on the Spurs bench.
Instead of sitting on the bench, though, Parker did something different. He sat in Popovich’s seat that was placed facing the San Antonio bench. His teammates gathered around as he directed the team to what he wanted to see.
Pop and the coaches finished their huddle and made their way to the bench. Then something really weird happened. Pop sat down on the bench as Parker continued his directions in Pop’s chair. The message after San Antonio’s 92-88 win was clear: this game/series/season/whatever is Tony Parker’s.
Parker scored 21 points on 9-for-18 shooting in the Game 1 over the Heat and handed out six assists. Parker did it all without turning the ball over a single time. While that stat is impressive enough on its own, it’s even more so when you watch the replay of Parker’s shot clock-beating bank shot with 5 seconds left that gave the Spurs their four-point margin of victory.
Parker used every bit — every bit — of the 24 second clock in hitting his 16-foot banker. Parker dribbled here, dribbled there. Lost the ball. Fell down. Kept his dribble alive. Avoided getting blocked by LeBron. Released the shot at the absolute last split second. Off the backboard and hitting the front rim not once, but twice, the shot finally fell through the net.
“Tony did everything wrong and then did everything right on the same possession,” James would say later.
LeBron would know. He was tasked with defending Parker for the last minute or so of the game, a trump card everyone knew Miami could, and would, pull out at any time. Parker has struggled in the past with defense putting bigger, more athletic players on him and who’s bigger and more athletic than LeBron James?
“I knew it was coming,” Parker said about James defending him. “Obviously a lot of NBA teams they put bigger guys on me.”
It was Thabo Sefolosha last season and Klay Thompson earlier in these playoffs. It was just a matter of time before Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and the Heat would throw James at Parker. Parker said that he and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had watched film of teams putting bigger defenders on him leading up to the series.
It didn’t come in earnest until the last minute of the game. Had it not been for Parker’s circus shot, it could’ve been the perfect tactical maneuver at the perfect time. Instead, it was a microcosm of this game. One team’s execution just barely getting the better of the other’s reaction. If the rest of this series, no matter how long it may last, is as well played as Game 1, this could be one of the best NBA Finals we’ll ever witness.
For the Spurs it all comes back to Parker. With such a long layoff many questioned, myself included, how well this rhythm based offense piloted by Parker would look in Game 1. Others pondered how effective the Spurs point guard would be against such an athletic defense.
Many of those questions were answered in Game 1. And while the path to a fourth NBA title for Parker is still a treacherous one, getting a win in Miami puts unmeasured pressure on the Heat going forward. If it’s going to happen for the Spurs, it’s going to happen whichever way Tony Parker decides.