MIAMI — There should be no doubt what priority No. 1 for the Miami Heat is when The Finals tip off Thursday night (9 ET, ABC): they must contain Tony Parker.
Parker is the driver of the Spurs’ offense. Via points, assists and turnovers, he has used 31.0 percent of the Spurs’ possessions when he’s been on the floor in the postseason. That’s up from 28.0 percent in the regular season and is higher than LeBron James‘ playoff usage rate (29.1 percent). That number doesn’t include plays where he gets the defense moving, the Spurs get a basket after two or three passes and he doesn’t get credit for the assist.
Simply, the ball is in Parker’s hands a lot. He creates shots for himself and others, and he just tore up the No. 2 defense in the league, averaging 24.5 ppg and 9.5 apg in the Spurs’ sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies to support argument that he’s the best pick-and-roll point guard in the league.
Parker has always been a strong finisher at the rim, consistently shooting about 64 percent in the restricted area over the last 10 seasons. But he has become a much bigger threat to pull up from mid-range this season. He shot 47.2 percent from between the paint and the 3-point line in the regular season, up from 38.7 percent over the previous three seasons. (He’s 55-for-119 — or 46.2 percent — from mid-range in these playoffs.
So, he can do this pretty well …
With Parker, great ball movement, and a bevy of (other) shooters, the Spurs have the formula to counter the Heat’s aggressive D. They rank first in assist rate, third in turnover rate, and second in 3-point percentage in the playoffs. When the Heat trap or hedge hard on pick-and-rolls, San Antonio should be able to take advantage.
But that doesn’t mean that the Heat are going to change their defensive gameplan. They want to attack those pick-and-rolls, stop Parker in his tracks and keep him from making easy passes. It’s a scheme that worked well (enough) against the Indiana Pacers, but will be much tougher to pull off against the Spurs.
Containing the pick-and-roll is a five-man job, and it starts with Parker’s primary defender: Mario Chalmers.
“I’ve got keep him from rejecting (going away from) the pick,” Chalmers said Wednesday, “go into the pick and go into the heart of our defense.”
Pushing Parker toward the screen is easier said than done, because the Spurs often make it hard to figure out on which side the screen is going to be. Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw will often fake a screen on one side of Parker’s defender, spin around and screen him on the other side. Or Parker will dribble off one screen, crossover, and come back and dribble off another screen from the same guy, going in the opposite direction.
Assuming Parker’s defender sends him the right way, it’s up to the screener’s defender to keep him contained.
“For three or four seconds, we got two-on-one,” Udonis Haslem said. “We got our two defenders against their one offensive player coming off that pick-and-roll. They do a good job of setting the screens. Their bigs do a good job of slipping from time to time, or holding the screen, so we got to patient as defenders not to jump out too early and give up the slip. But also, when Tony Parker comes off that pick with a full head of steam, we got to be ready to slide with him, contain him, and keep him out of the paint.”
That’s also easier said than done. Just ask Zach Randolph …
There was some talk on Wednesday about LeBron James defending Parker at some point in The Finals. That would certainly make it tougher for Parker to get to space, but might also compromise the Heat’s off-ball defense and rebounding.
And the Spurs aren’t just going to be running Parker off straight pick-and-rolls. They also have creative ways to get him the ball on the move, like a pair of cross-screens in this play against the Grizzlies:
This is a playoff challenge unlike any the Heat have faced thus far, a huge step up from Brandon Jennings, Nate Robinson and George Hill.
“He creates so much offense for them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So we just have to wear on him. We’ve worked on pick-and-roll defense for three years for matchups like this. And our defense will be tested, but we trust it. We built a lot of habits with it. Throw different bodies in front of him, and then hopefully, there’s a cumulative effect of wearing on him.”