How were the Heat going to slow down Tony Parker?
That query proved prescient in the opening salvo of this year's championship series. The San Antonio Spurs sneaked away from AmericanAirlines Arena with a 92-88 win and the slice of home-court advantage that comes with it.
The All-Star point guard scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and added six assists (without a turnover) and two steals on the evening to close out the defending champions.
Parker's final bucket—a 16-foot jumper with five seconds remaining, that left his fingertips just before the shot clock expired and bounced off the rim before dropping through—sealed the deal for San Antonio.
This, after the Heat held the edge with 2:47 left in the first quarter all the way until the seven-minute mark of the final frame. For their part, the Heat should've and must've expected that the Spurs would embark on a run like the 15-5 spurt they put together to seize the lead for good in the fourth, and that Parker would be the catalyst behind it.
That's not just because Parker is the best player the Spurs have at their disposal, or because their entire offense is orchestrated by and organized around the fleet-footed Frenchman. Beyond those reasons, the Heat could point to their season-long struggles against opposing floor generals.
Miami had struggled to contain guards well below Parker's pay grade (i.e. Nate Robinson of the Chicago Bulls and George Hill of the Indiana Pacers) during the team's run to the final round of the postseason. Robinson topped the 20-point plateau twice in the second round, while Hill scored in double figures in five of Indiana's seven games against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Those issues certainly weren't going to evaporate with a player deemed by some to be the best at his position—a position that has given the Heat fits at times during their historic campaign.
Hence the questions about how the Heat would stop him.
Could Mario Chalmers pester the pesky Parisian? Would it be wise for Erik Spoelstra to sic LeBron James, the best perimeter defender in basketball, on a slippery guard whose antics have left many a great stopper tossing and turning in their sleep?
(Which doesn't seem fair, considering how much else LeBron has on his plate. The four-time MVP piled up 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists—his second straight finals triple-double—and even jumped on Parker defensively during several possessions down the stretch.)
Moreover, how would the Heat handle the myriad pick-and-rolls into which Parker would throw them, with Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in tow?
Duncan was especially helpful for the Spurs in this one.
The 37-year-old future Hall of Famer carried San Antonio on both ends for much of the game. He took Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen to school in the post, popped out for jumpers, battled on the boards against Miami's tenacious athletes and served as an offensive hub whenever Parker needed a rest.
Duncan walked away with 20 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 37 minutes.
He did this even after picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter. The Big Fundamental did just enough to hold the fort for the Spurs, until Parker was once again ready to run Miami's defenders through his own personal torture chamber.
Make no mistake: Parker's been this good and this threatening for some time. He's finished among the top 10 in MVP voting four times since 2005-06 and already has a Finals MVP on his resume from 2007, when he led the Spurs to a four-game sweep of a young LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers.
Really, then, if there's any team that's aware of Parker's capabilities, it's this Heat team, who count James as their own fulcrum.
Still, as much as these playoffs have exposed Miami's problems at the point, they've also done plenty to publicize Parker's own primacy on his own team and among his fellow ball-handlers and distributors. He was very good (if not great) back in '07, but, truth be told, those NBA Finals belonged to Duncan.
That won't likely be the case if San Antonio takes the cake from betwixt LeBron's teeth this time around. This is Parker's team now. As he goes, so go the Spurs, whether on the court or in the huddle.
If the Spurs ride this result to victory, it'll be because Parker controlled the proceedings. He did well in that regard in Game 1—too well for Miami's liking.
The question is, how are the Heat going to slow down Tony Parker now?
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