Game 1 is in the books and the San Antonio Spurs have taken a 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat, winning in Miami 92-88. After two conference finals series that looked like they were being played in the mud, the opener for the Finals was played at warp speed where both teams' skills and aptitude were on full display.
The game came down to the final 5 seconds where Tony Parker, the smallest guy on the court, somehow juked out half the Heat defense, lost his balance, nearly lost his dribble, and then hit an impossible shot underneath the outstretched arm of LeBron James. You need to watch it in slow-motion to really appreciate all the nuanced difficulty of what Parker accomplished:
It was an incredible play, one of the most memorable in Finals history.
Why was Chris Bosh guarding Tony Parker on the final play?
To be sure, James started out on Parker and in the end James nearly blocked Parker's shot, but there was a whole mess of things in between that you can't see from most of the highlight videos that have surfaced, which tend to only focus on the incredible shot.
I have clipped the entire sequence for some analysis, but first, take a look at what LeBron had to say about that final play, which really frames everything well:
"It was tough. You're going to make me go back to that play? 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. I got a great contest, and he even double‑pumped it and barely got it off. That was the longest 24 seconds that I've been a part of."
Let's take a look at everything that led up to the mad scramble and ultimate game deciding shot.
At the outset, you can see that the Spurs are running a basic horns set with great balance on the court. They've got Kawhi Leonard at the left elbow and Tim Duncan at the right, with proper spacing in the corners with Danny Green and Manu Ginobili, two solid 3-point shooters.
Ordinarily, a horns play involves passing the ball to one of the guys at the elbows and then the guard runs off a screen down to the baseline (for some great video on how Horns works, check this out). For this play, the Spurs are looking to accomplish a number of things, as you will see.
The Spurs see that LeBron, possibly the only guy who has the quickness and discipline to stay in front of Parker, is in an open defensive stance. The Spurs' first order of business is to do something about that. Leonard sets a screen on LeBron's right side to try and create space for Parker.
However, in a surprising turn of events, we see that LeBron switches off of Parker and stays with Leonard. Furthermore, the screen is not even that aggressive; the switch happens immediately. This would indicate that the Heat's defensive scheme was to switch on everything in this final sequence. This defensive plan is not too surprising, as that is what most teams do at the ends of games, but usually if they only have to defend for a few seconds. However, it IS surprising in the sense that the Heat's best defender is now playing the guy in Leonard who is LEAST likely to be shooting the ball out of a set play, and the Heat made the conscious decision to allow it (shades of Heat-Pacers Game 1?). Now Mike Miller has to contend with the quick-footed Parker, and Ray Allen, covering Green, will have to be cautious about leaving his man to help.
We see that the Spurs are not done yet; they want to create another mismatch. Now Duncan comes from the right side to set a second screen for Parker coming back the other way.
This second screen is switched as well and Leonard smartly drags LeBron to the opposite side of the court. The Spurs have now created 3 different mismatches on the court.
Parker now has Bosh on him at the top of the key, Duncan has the smaller Miller in the post, and the Heat's best defender in LeBron has been dragged completely out of the play on the right. All Parker needs to do now is drive left and all sorts of things will open. Duncan can either catch the ball in the post or roll to the rim, Parker can beat Bosh off the dribble, or if Allen comes over to help, Parker has an easy dish to Green for the corner 3. It is an exceptionally designed play that preys on the fact that the Heat were switching everything.
What happens next?
Parker drives the wrong way.
For some reason Parker reads the play differently than what we see here, and instead takes the ball back into the teeth of the Heat's 3 best defenders in LeBron, Bosh, and Wade.
LeBron was right - Parker did everything wrong on that possession. Epic failure, right?
"Nah," says J.R. Wilco. If Parker hadn't driven right, "Then the shot isn't as dramatic! You know the French, they've got a flair, a certain ... je ne sais quais."
LeBron was right again - Parker did everything right on that possession too.