Tony Parker was a role player when the San Antonio Spurs last won an NBA championship six years ago. The crafty point guard is the catalyst now, and the Spurs showed in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night that they still have championship mettle.
Tim Duncan, the key player for Spurs in the 2007 title run, overcame a slow start to finish with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Parker capped off a beautiful performance by banking in a desperation jumper on a broken play with 5.2 seconds left, and the Spurs withstood LeBron James’ triple-double to beat the defending champion Miami Heat 92-88 and take a 1-0 series lead.
Parker ended up with 21 points after referees reviewed his shot to make sure it just beat the shot clock, giving San Antonio a four-point edge in the game, which was close the whole way.
“We got a little bit lucky in Game 1,” Parker said. “Sometimes that’s what it takes to win games.”
Playing for the championship for the first time since sweeping James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007 for their fourth title, the Spurs improved to 5-for-5 in Game 1, hanging around for three quarters and then blowing by the defending champions midway through the fourth.
Manu Ginobili, the third member of San Antonio’s big three that has combined for 99 postseason victories together, finished with 13 points, and Danny Green had 12.
“It doesn’t matter how we’re categorized — old, veterans, whatever you call us, we’re in the mix,” the 37-year-old Duncan said.
San Antonio turned up its defense in the fourth quarter, limiting Miami to seven points in the first 8½ minutes in returning to the Finals just the way it left — with a victory over James.
James had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in his second straight NBA Finals triple-double, but he shot only 7-of-16 against some good defense by Kawhi Leonard, and Miami’s offense stalled in the fourth quarter.
“The Spurs are the Spurs,” James said. “They’re going to put you in positions where you feel uncomfortable offensively and defensively, and every time you make a mistake, they’re going to capitalize on it.”
Game 2 is Sunday night.
James became a champion on this floor last year in Game 5 against Oklahoma City, but he hasn’t forgotten his first taste of the Finals.
The Spurs overwhelmed his Cavaliers, and James spoke Wednesday like someone who had payback in mind. He was 22 then, a fourth-year player headed for greatness but with holes in his game that San Antonio exploited.
Revenge won’t come easily — if it comes at all.
Dwyane Wade cored 17 points for the Heat but was shut out in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh had only two of his 13 points in the final period.
James shot an air ball on a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt, then was soon back to the step-in-front-of-him-at-your-own-risk force that has made him the game’s best player.
But San Antonio handled that and everything else Miami did, even while shooting only 42 percent from the field.
“This is a hell of a game to play because both teams are so good offensively and defensively,” Bosh said. “You can’t have any letdowns.”
Forced to seven grueling games by the rugged Indiana Pacers in the East finals, the Heat clearly enjoyed the more wide-open flow of this game, making 18 of their first 30 shots. But the Spurs’ defense simply got better as the game went along, forcing Miami into five turnovers in the final quarter.
“I thought we were a little fatigued honestly in the fourth quarter,” Wade said. “Looking around, we looked like a team that came off a seven-game series.”
Miami outshot and outrebounded San Antonio in the first half, yet led only 52-49. The Heat stayed ahead until Parker’s free throws gave San Antonio a 77-76 edge with 7:47 remaining. James set up Bosh for a jumper on the next possession for his 10th assist, but Leonard made a follow shot and Parker turned James’ turnover into a spinning layup and an 81-78 lead exactly halfway through the fourth.
“We were just trying to hang,” Parker said. “In the third quarter, the same thing. In the fourth quarter, we finally made some stops and made a couple of big shots.”