Sometimes, perfect defense means nothing. Just ask Chris Bosh and LeBron James. They both played flawless defense on Tony Parker as the clock winded down on the first game of the NBA Finals. And then he did this:
If the Heat are going to even this series, then they are going to have to find a way to stop Tony Parker and the Spurs. How, exactly, do they go about doing this?
One way to do this would be to simply think that that shot was lucky, and not something that will happen again. Playing perfect defense, the Heat could think, will win out over the long run.
Or, they could look at the bigger picture. They could realize that Parker's Game 1 performance—in which he scored 21 points, had six assists and did not commit a single turnover—is the norm and they have to do anything and everything to stop it.
Tony Parker had 21 Pts, 6 Ast, and 0 turnovers last night. The ONLY other active player to do that in the Finals is Chauncey Billups.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) June 7, 2013
That would be the wise path to take. The obvious adjustment would be to put LeBron James on Parker the entire game. But when the Heat did that in the fourth quarter, it didn't seem to slow down the Spurs. The Spurs outscored the Heat in the final period by a score of 23-16, and Parker scored 10. Putting James on Parker actually seemed to open up more opportunities for the other Spurs on the floor.
Tim Duncan explained to Michael Wallace of ESPN how this worked:
Tony made some great calls to get some switches in the right places. We understand that when it comes down to it, LeBron is going to be their best defender. They are going to put him on Tony. We have to continue to execute, continue to attack and just try to get [Parker] as much space as possible.
Essentially, the Heat tried to limit Parker's ability to drive. James, probably the best defender in the world, is hard to simply blow past. But by doing so, it opened up more space for the other Spurs, particularly Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, who are fine shooters.
Isolating James on Parker allowed the Spurs to take advantage of open space, as Michael Wallace broke down:
Instead of Parker trying to force his own offense, he continued to run pick-and-roll sets that occupied James with the screener. When the Heat trapped Parker, he moved the ball to teammates for the first in a series of swing passes that eventually found an open spot-up shooter.
In essence, by focusing all their energy on Parker, the Heat left too many open shooters. How do you limit Parker without leaving wide-open shooters?
One idea would be to force Parker to shoot. Parker was effective from the field, however, shooting 9-of-18. The Spurs are 8-0 in this year's playoffs when Parker shoots at least 50 percent.
Another idea, one that perhaps has the most potential, would be to simply let Parker do his thing. In other words, concede that Parker is going to get his points, and put more energy on locking down Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Leonard and Green. That might play into the Heat's hands. By letting Parker be free, they can rotate James to whichever Spur has the hot hand.
What's the Best Way to Stop Parker?
They will have to resist the temptation to shift James onto Parker in the later stages of the game. In the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Spurs made eight jumpers. What's even more concerning for the Heat is that San Antonio also missed eight jumpers, including three misses by Gary Neal. If Neal hits two of those three jumpers, the incredible Parker shot doesn't even matter.
It sounds counterintuitive, but isolating Parker allowed the Spurs to take and hit open shots. The Heat, paradoxically, need to let Parker take over if they want to win.
That's a tough deal to take, because it means that Parker will score. Norris Cole is not really a match for Parker. Nor is Mario Chalmers. The only person capable of stopping Parker is James. But that leaves everyone else open.
Of course, even perfect defense doesn't always matter. The Heat just have to tip their hat to Parker's incredibly clutch play, a play that got Twitter roaring:
Tony Parker. Le Clutch.— Ken Jeong (@kenjeong) June 7, 2013
The Heat are not out of the series, and if they keep getting triple-doubles from James, they'll win a few games. But stopping the Spurs requires going against the grain. If they can focus on limiting the other players on the Spurs, then they have a real chance at the title.