No fluke ? Spurs were in control - San Antonio Express-News
By Buck Harvey
June 7, 2013 6:34 AM
MIAMI — Tony Parker has been on one knee before. In the old days, he spent a lot of time praying his jumper would fall.
So he had some experience with what happened Thursday. Then, he lost the ball, by his estimation, “three or four times.” He spun around with the shot clock winding down, with LeBron James hovering over him, until he ended up dribbling on a knee like a Harlem Globetrotter.
That wasn't the play the Spurs had drawn up. “He was supposed to throw a bucket of water on the crowd,” one staffer said afterward, continuing the Globetrotter theme.
But the bank shot that followed, as well as the review that required officials to check Parker's fingernails, didn't accurately describe the opening game of the Finals.
This win wasn't a fluke.
This win, if anything, outlined how the Spurs can win their fifth NBA championship.
Vegas favored the Heat and for good reason. LeBron said this week that he's “20, 40, 50 times better than I was in '07,” and that's a lot better.
Thursday showed that. LeBron was ordinary; all he ended up with was a triple-double.
But the numbers don't tell how the Spurs kept him under control. They had him game-planned, just as they did six years ago, with Tim Duncan protecting the rim as he also did in 2007.
Then there's Kawhi Leonard. He was disappointed he didn't get a chance to play LeBron this season, but there was a twist to that. LeBron had never seen him, either.
Maybe that made a difference midway through the fourth quarter when LeBron tried a simple pass. Leonard swept his arms the way he does — like a man with a broom in his hands — and the steal changed the game. Parker sped to the other end, spinning on Norris Cole, and the Spurs had a 3-point lead.
The Parker score was spectacular to those who haven't been watching him these past years, and common to those who have. This gets back to LeBron and his improvement since 2007.
Isn't Parker also 20, 40, 50 times better than he was then? Just as LeBron was already special six years ago, so was Parker. He was the MVP of those Finals.
Parker was still growing, though, and Thursday showed how far he has come. At one point during a timeout, he walked out to where the coaches stood on the court and talked to Gregg Popovich. Parker then turned and took a seat in the huddle — where Popovich usually sits.
Parker gave directions to his teammates as he never would have six years ago. “Timmy and Pop allow me to do that,” Parker said Thursday. They allow that because Parker has earned the right.
He sees the game, and sees what is coming. He said afterward he knew LeBron would switch to him at some point, which LeBron did.
Parker also took care of Popovich's highest priority, which was the basketball. After Duncan opened the game with a turnover, leading to a Dwyane Wade dunk, the Spurs went on to commit only three more turnovers. Their total tied a Finals low.
Parker also did what he's done for so long, which is score. He had 10 points in the fourth quarter.
As Wade said afterward, he is “the engine behind everything.”
But the engine was just part of a balanced, efficient game. The Spurs shared the ball, and they got quality looks they didn't always make.
“I thought we played an OK game,” Manu Ginobili said. “Not great.”
So while the lasting image of this game was Parker's buzzer-beater, the one play belies what is really happening. The Spurs have now won seven of their eight road games this postseason — and will get two days off before they try for another.
Bolded section because until now, I didn't realize Leonard didn't play against LeBron this season.