Miami fell at the hands of the Parker-led San Antonio Spurs in Game 1. He finished with 21 points and six assists on 9-of-18 shooting.
There was little the Heat could have done on that play. Seeing Chris Bosh forced to defend a dribbling Parker off a switch was less than ideal, but James wound up on Parker. It was just a big-time shot by an even bigger-time player.
Most of Parker's plays in Game 1, however, came down to science. Nothing can be done when he passes off the dribble or when he goes at you with a foray of dribble-hesitation moves. I'll give the Heat that. Mostly, they got burnt by high traps that left a slashing Spur unimpeded on his way to the rim. As the Heat found out, Parker always sees the open cutter.
San Antonio's pick-and-roll killed Miami as well.
There's nothing overly complex about the way the Spurs run it; they simply have a knack for creating mismatches off switches. Tim Duncan sets hard, wide-legged screens that leave Parker to take opposing 4's and 5's off the dribble. Ten times out of 10, you know who's going to win that battle.
Take this particular set:
Parker will dribble up to Duncan, who sets those trademark strong-side screens of his:
Notice how Mario Chalmers is unable to fight over Duncan's screen, leaving Parker to take Joel Anthony one-on-one, which is never, ever going to end well:
Now, stay with me on the above picture, because there's a lot going on.
Anthony is clearly beat. While known for his shot-blocking prowess, his lateral movement has always been as suspect as his touch around the rim on offense. So he needs help. Only James, Dwyane Wade and Mike Miller can't provide it. They're left to guard against the three-point shooting of Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Gary Neal. Any help they provide, Parker will see coming and dish off without even looking.
Normally, the Heat would send at least one. Forcing anyone to knock down a long jumper is usually better than allowing Parker an easy look at the rim. James instead decides to wait until he's out of Parker's peripheral vision to converge. Miller could have done so sooner, but the Heat are lucky he's even walking.
James' efforts are too little, incredibly late as Parker lays in an easy two:
Plays like that disrupt the Heat's defensive flow. And they allow the Spurs to put additional points on the board, much to the Heat's chagrin.
Parker scored or assisted on 12 points inside of five feet in Game 1. He was getting to the rim often and with ease.
Certain instances saw them try to cut off his dribble penetration beyond the three-point line with double-teams and seemingly well-placed traps. Gregg Popovich has never been one to preach idleness, though. The Spurs move off the ball well collectively. If you double Parker beyond the perimeter, he's going to burn you with a bullet to a slashing Duncan or lurking Ginobili.
The answer to his dominance continued to elude the Heat.
Then came Game 2.
|Tony Parker||FGM||FGA||FG%||PTS||ASTS||Points Scored/Assisted on Inside 5 Feet||TOs||+/-|
Miami held Parker to just 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the floor. He handed out five assists, but scored or assisted on only four points inside of five feet. The Spurs were also outscored by 27 points in Parker's 33 minutes of action, the worst postseason plus-minus showing of this year and fourth-worst for his career.
"We just gave him different matchups," Chalmers told ABC Sports' Doris Burke of Parker following Game 2. "We didn't let him get comfortable with one matchup with one person. We kept switching to try to keep him off balance."
Led by Chris Andersen, the Heat threw a wrench in Parker and the Spurs' pick-and-roll sets. A really big one, eliminating both the point guard and Tim Duncan from the offense in the process.
Allow me to point you toward the final minute of the third quarter, when the Heat were in the thick of their 33-5 run:
We see Parker calling for the screen just past half court. Most times, this is Duncan's signal to vamoose. But the Spurs throw a curveball:
Instead of Duncan, Neal begins to make a beeline for Parker, like he's going to set the screen. The Heat know better. More specifically, Birdman knows better:
Neal continues to make his way over toward Parker, but Andersen doesn't leave Duncan's side. He doesn't get behind in a premature effort to protect the rim, nor does he rush toward the free-throw line to cut off Parker's dribble.
What does he do then? He fronts him:
Fronting Duncan breaks up the fluidity behind this play. Neal is supposed to set a subtle screen for the future Hall of Famer, but it becomes far more obvious with Birdman in the way.
Nonetheless, Neal makes an attempt to free Duncan and succeeds:
Andersen gets caught behind Neal, allowing Duncan to set a screen for Parker.
Now is when all hell should break loose for the Heat's defense. Either Duncan or Parker should run the pick-and-roll to perfection and find themselves putting up an easy two. Only Birdman has other ideas:
Our mohawked friend doesn't panic. He doesn't rush to Duncan's side or back his way toward the rim. He leaves ample space between himself and Parker, thus keeping the point man out of the paint:
By design, this isn't a problem for the Spurs. They force the Heat to switch. That's what matters. Andersen is smart enough not to suffocate Parker, leaving himself susceptible to being passed, but Chalmers is seen easing off Duncan. An effortless bucket is still within reach.
Then, more Birdman:
As Chalmers slides toward Parker, Birdman shirks on over to Duncan. Recognizing that their pick-and-roll has been foiled, the Spurs do it again:
Parker attacks Chalmers, leading him into Duncan, who sets another hard screen.
Because Birdman decides to defend this play to perfection and beyond, he switches onto Parker:
Defending the dribble isn't Andersen's forte, but he uses his body to keep Parker away from the rim. Once again drawing the conclusion that he isn't going to get to the basket, Parker sheds Birdman with a step-back dribble:
For a moment, it looks like the Heat's efforts have been for nothing as Parker creates enough space to get off a shot inside the paint.
Once more, it's Birdman to the rescue:
He recovers in time to contest the shot, which inevitably rolls off the rim:
If you're exhausted, you're not the only one.
There are types of complex switches Chalmers referenced during his postgame interview. The Heat—especially Andersen—don't allow Parker or any of his off-ball minions to get cozy.
Game 2 is littered with instances like these:
Miami switched and rotated incessantly, coaxing Parker into difficult shots or forcing the ball out of his hands entirely. From there, they closed out seemingly open shooters effectively, providing the help defense they weren't confident enough in during Game 1. And the results speak for themselves.
Parker hit on just 35.7 percent of his field-goal attempts. He was reduced to a near non-factor on offense, throwing passes off the hands of Heat defenders.
Will the Heat be able to keep Tony Parker in check for the rest of the Finals?
Sans an immaculate Parker, Duncan and Ginobili followed suit. They totaled just 14 points between them.
Frustrating Parker stymied San Antonio's offense completely, most notably in the latter half of the game. In doing so, the Heat established a blueprint for how to contain him.
The keyword here is "contain." Miami won't stop Parker altogether every single night. That's impossible. Some of the Heat's closeouts and Birdman's recoveries were simply extraordinary. It's unrealistic to hold them to that standard each game.
But the Heat now have the means and the knowledge to thwart Parker as well as any team. They now have an answer to a question that was considered insolvable.