- Series hub: Spurs vs. Heat
MIAMI – Twenty-four seconds can be a long time. Same as 48 minutes.
Having patience when others might panic, staying poised long after others have turned to prayer, the San Antonio Spurs waited out the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals for a 92-88 win.
They kept their heads in ways that few opponents do, and much longer, when facing the offensive onslaught and defensive pressure of the reigning champions. They did what they’ve done for most of the past 14 years or so, back to when they started winning titles of their own: Playing with passion but without extraneous emotion. Letting games come to them. Trusting in each other and in their system.
Do that often enough, to where it becomes not just second nature but first, and it’s amazing how every once in a while, time will cooperate. And … stand … still.
“Longest 24 seconds I’ve ever been a part of,” LeBron James said afterward, shaking his head, grinning and dying a little while starting to purge the play from his memory.
Those 24 seconds — “26″ was what it felt like to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, and he was more right than he might have imagined — produced the final points of the night and snuffed whatever big-finish scenarios Miami might have had in mind.
Twenty-four seconds, San Antonio’s last possession, super-sized.
It began with 31.3 seconds left in the game, off a pair of free throws by James. It ended at 5.2 seconds — so yeah, 26.1 elapsed on the game clock by the time the ball came out of the net. But what was remarkable was all that took place in between, with San Antonio point guard Tony Parker‘s agony and ecstasy in less than half a minute.
Parker’s first priority was to run the clock, leaving as little time for Miami as possible while getting a legitimate, efficient scoring chance. That last part proved, err, a little tricky. The possession began to get away from him in a decidedly un-Spurs-like way.
“We waited too long for him to play that pick-and-roll,” said teammate Manu Ginobili, “And they are so good guarding that and helping and rotating and long arms on the ball, and he lost it twice. … So I was trying to just chase him around to get him an outlet.”
Only Parker turned the other way, toward the right sideline. Only a few seconds remained when he slipped and went to one knee on the hardwood, Curly Neal/Harlem Globetrotters-style. He managed to keep his dribble but, yikes, James was on him.
“Tony did everything wrong and did everything right in the same possession,” James said. “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. I got a great contest and he even double-pumped it and barely got it off.”
Parker stepped through James’ defense and under his arm, leaned in and released the ball. Multiple replays were needed multiple times to prove the ball left his hand before the shot-clock lights triggered.
“It was a crazy play,” said Parker, who finished with 21 points — and was the only player in the game to score in double digits (12) in the second half. “I thought I lost the ball three or four times. At the end I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good in my hand.”
It looked like a dagger to the Heat.
The moral of that possession, though, and what turned it into a microcosm of the game was that Parker stayed with the play until something special happened. Pretty much what the Spurs did too, only with the game.
Of Game 1′s first 41 minutes, San Antonio led for a mere 5:45 and not at all from 2:48 of the first quarter till 7:47 of the fourth. But it played methodically and stayed clean — its four turnovers tying the mark for second-fewest in playoff history. The first one came 13 seconds after tipoff, an instant reminder to the Spurs of what not to do against the champs.
“They played most of the game five-on-five,” Ginobili said, “and that’s what we want.”
In other words, Miami most of the time was facing San Antonio’s halfcourt defense rather than getting out in transition, scoring off breakouts or alley-oops. It had three fast-break points in the first quarter, three in the second, three in the third — and none in the fourth.
The Heat’s turnover pattern went the other way: two in the first, none in the second, two in the third — and five in the fourth. That’s as many giveaways as field goals in the period. Miami missed all five of its 3-pointers in the fourth, including two dubious ones from Chris Bosh and a force from James. It managed but 16 points, 36 in the second half.
“We didn’t really make adjustments,” Parker said.
No, they waited. For Miami’s fatigue to seize up on them — Dwyane Wade admitted to it, citing the seven games against Indiana that wrapped Monday, and James concurred. For Miami to make a mistake, too, like missing an ill-advised shot or not getting an arm on a Parker desperation double-pump.
Tim Duncan stayed patient through a scoreless first quarter, scored 12 in the second and finished with 20. Parker stayed patient with the Heat’s traps and was careful not to force plays. Kawhi Leonard, stuck shadowing James, stayed patient through James’ early triple-double — he had it with 10 minutes to spare — yet, in plus/minus ratings, Leonard wound up plus-6 on a night when the league’s MVP finished minus-3.
“They’re going to put you in positions where you feel uncomfortable offensively and defensively,” James said. “And every time you make a mistake, they’re going to capitalize on it.”
It’s what the Spurs do. They embrace time, stretch it in their favor and every once in a while, they stop it.
“We don’t really worry too much about what’s going on in the game except the things we can control,” coach Gregg Popovich said late Thursday. “What one can do is continue to play D, continue to rebound and just hang and hang and hang.
“It’s a 48-minute game. In the NBA things go back and forth many, many times. The ability to move on to the next play is what’s really important if a team wants to be really good.”
San Antonio did that in Game 1 — hang and hang and hang — until there was no next play for Miami at all.