MIAMI — The Heat used any method to slow down Tony Parker for three quarters, frustrating the masterful point guard with their physical style as they led most of the first 36 minutes.
Their pressure began to relent in the final quarter as Parker remained aggressive, and finally those tiny openings to the basket grew larger, and Parker slithered through to catapult the Spurs to a 92-88 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night.
Parker scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth, including a spinning bank shot with 5.2 seconds remaining. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for just 35 points on 14-for-31 shooting as San Antonio’s defense forced Miami’s other options to produce, and they faltered.
The Heat, after a grueling seven-game series against the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, which concluded on Monday, grew fatigued as the well-rested Spurs outscored Miami, 23-16, in the fourth quarter, with Wade scoreless.
Tim Duncan added 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Spurs, who hadn’t played since completing a sweep of the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals May 15. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Ray Allen scored 13 points for the Heat, including three free throws that drew Miami to 88-86 with 1:28 left. But Duncan answered with two free throws.
After James converted two free throws with 31.3 seconds left, Parker countered by dribbling down the lane toward 6-feet-11-inch Chris Bosh, who bumped him out of the paint into a waiting James. Parker was bumped to the floor, kept his dribble, spun away from James, and then hit a 16-foot bank shot to barely beat the 24-second clock.
Both teams were left shaking their heads at Parker’s improvisation.
“It was a crazy play. I thought I lost the ball three or four times and it didn’t work out like I wanted to,” Parker said. “At the end I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I’m glad it went in.”
Said James, “Tony did everything wrong and did everything right in the same possession. He stumbled two or three times, he fell over, and when he fell over I was like OK, I’m going to have to tie this ball up. He got up and went under my arm. That was the longest 24 seconds that I’ve ever been a part of.”
Parker was 4 for 8 shooting in the fourth quarter, while his teammates were 5 for 15. And his resurrection was unexpected, given how the Heat double-teamed him on pick-and-rolls, summoned the larger James to use his brute strength to keep him out of the key, and left open the Spurs’ wing players at the 3-point line.
San Antonio missed 5 of 6 3-pointers in the fourth, shot 39.1 percent, and were outrebounded, 14-9, but yet made every critical play.
“I think we missed some opportunities we could have capitalized on,” said Wade, who was 0 for 2 in the fourth. “We as a team pride ourselves on, no matter what’s going on, being better in the fourth quarter. We had a few of those in this season where we let ourselves down, where we didn’t have it in the fourth.”
San Antonio stayed close in the third quarter, but missed seven consecutive shots in one stretch that could have tied the game or given the Spurs the lead. They lived a charmed life as the Heat were unable to pull away as James chose to play distributor. He finished with 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists.
The Spurs stayed within single digits by taking care of the ball. The Pacers committed 15 first-half turnovers in Game 7 on Monday, the Spurs committed four all night, and none in the fourth quarter. It was the type of precision and execution expected from a team that’s won four titles in 14 years and thrives on opponents’ miscues.
“It’s elite basketball right now, there’s not a large margin for error either way, we had some empty possessions and it cost us,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If we execute the way we typically do down the stretch, we probably have enough. We could live with some of the actions [offensively] they got going down the stretch, but we weren’t very good offensively.”
Meanwhile, Duncan and Manu Ginobili began to carry the Spurs in the pivotal third quarter. Ginobili’s layup cut the deficit to 58-57 to cap a 6-0 run. He then added a 3-pointer to reduce the deficit to 64-62 as the Heat were unable to put together substantial runs in the second half. Ginobili’s free throws ended a sparkling third quarter as San Antonio entered the final frame with momentum.
After Wade opened the game with a dunk, the Spurs quieted the crowd with 9 consecutive points, making the game’s first statement. Miami responded with 7 in a row, and the Finals were off to a rousing start.
The Heat controlled most of the first half, canning six of their first 11 3-point attempts, and getting 13 points from a rejuvenated Wade.
San Antonio served as the house guest that never got the hint to leave, hanging around for the first half, using mini-runs to stay close even when Duncan began the night by missing his first five shots and collecting two first-half fouls.
Duncan responded with 12 second-quarter points, including a buzzer-beating jumper as the Spurs whittled the Heat’s advantage to 52-49 at the break.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe