This year's NBA Finals matchup places the scorching Miami Heat up against the battle-tested San Antonio Spurs. With so much at stake for both teams, it is hard not to be drawn in to the excitement.
LeBron James has the chance for revenge at the Spurs, who swept him in the 2007 NBA Finals. James hasn't forgotten the embarrassing loss, and will certainly be fueled by the memory of it.
By adding a second championship to his impressive résumé, James would be yet another step closer to having a place among players like Bill Russell, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
With a fifth championship, Tim Duncan would be a perfect five-for-five in the NBA Finals and cement his legacy as one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
With so much hanging in the balance, both teams had an opportunity to take an early lead in the series Thursday night in Miami, but only one would come out on top.
The San Antonio Spurs hadn't played a basketball game in nine days, and there was much speculation that they would come out of the gate rusty. In game 1, the Spurs erased all doubts as they topped the Miami Heat 92-88 in a late game thriller, in which Tony Parker hit a bank shot with just over five seconds left to put the Spurs up by four points, sealing the victory.
Parker led all scorers with 21 points and 6 assists. Duncan added 20 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks for the Spurs.
For Miami, James notched his 10th career playoff triple-double with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Dwyane Wade added 17 points.
The game was neck-and-neck the entire way, neither team led by more than nine points. In dissecting game 1, there are five things that can be learned.
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As a team, Miami shot 5-18 (27.7 percent) in the fourth quarter, including six missed shots inside of five feet. With great finishers in James, Wade and Chris Bosh, the lack of scoring in the paint was surprising.
Although the Heat defense pressured extremely well, it couldn't convert on the offensive end. A majority of Miami's points in the fourth quarter came at the free-throw line.
"I thought we were a little fatigued honestly in the fourth quarter," Wade told ESPN. "Looking around, we looked like a team that came off a seven-game series."
The Heat also were 0-5 from the three-point line in the fourth quarter. With Wade and James both possessing the ability to score at will, Miami will need them to step up in the fourth quarter in the future games.
In the two matchups with the Heat during the regular season, the Spurs had 19 turnovers in one game and 17 turnovers in the other. Their turnovers led to easy points in transition, and San Antonio lost both games.
In game 1 however, the Spurs had only four turnovers the entire game. Parker played 40 minutes of the 48-minute game, but the Spurs' point-guard did not commit a single turnover.
The Spurs' lack of turnovers kept the Heat out of transition as Miami only had nine fast-break points. For Parker, it was all about slowing Miami's star players down.
"Obviously, Lebron is unbelievable and Dwyane Wade was playing great," Parker told USA Today. "We just try to contain them."
By not turning the ball over near as much as the previous games against Miami, San Antonio was able to eliminate the easy baskets for James and Wade, causing them to shoot well below their average.
If the Spurs continue to keep their turnovers low, they will be extremely difficult to defeat the rest of the series.
Early in the game, Duncan was 0-5 from the floor and picked up two early fouls, but despite the slow start, Duncan turned it around to continue to win the battle with Father Time.
In the first quarter, Duncan missed all five of his mid-range shots, and the two fouls had him sitting on the bench early. In the second quarter, Duncan adjusted to attack the paint to develop a rhythm to get the rest of his game going. He went on to hit five of his next seven shots. By the end of the game, Duncan had 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Despite his age (37 years old), Duncan continues to be one of the most dominant big men in the game. He adjusts his game to fit what his team needs, and while he is on the floor, the Spurs have a better shot at winning the championship.
"It doesn't matter how we're categorized — old, veterans, whatever you call us, we're in the mix," Duncan told ESPN.
James had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists, but it still wasn't enough to overcome the Spurs. James was scoring decently, rebounding like a center and passing like a point guard, but despite the monster triple-double, the Heat need more from their team.
Miami shot 43 percent from the floor, had only 8 turnovers and out-rebounded the Spurs. The Heat certainly didn't play terrible, they had a solid game.
But a solid game isn't going to cut it against a franchise of San Antonio's caliber.
Miami's "Big 3" didn't seem to be very big Thursday night. Wade had 17 points, and Bosh added 13, but both are well below their respective per-game averages. While Wade normally averages around five assists per game, he only managed to dish out two.
Throughout the rest of the series, if Wade and Bosh don't play to their all-star potential, then James will have perhaps too much weight to carry on his own.
Parker was the life of the Spurs in the fourth quarter as he had 10 of his 21 points in the final period. The most exciting play of the game was when Parker beat the shot clock with 5.2 seconds left in the game to get a bank shot to fall to ice the game for San Antonio.
The shot seemed to be a miracle toss with little chance of going in, but for Parker it was one that he thought was going in the entire time.
"It was so crazy that play. … I lost the ball like three times. It didn't work out like I wanted it to," Parker told USA Today. "I knew. I just had a feeling that it was good."
The Heat had no answer for Parker, and he continued to hit shot after shot in the clutch moments of the game. In the final minutes, James started to guard Parker, and being the best defender on the team, James might have to continue to do so to prevent any further late-game heroics by Parker.
This was the fourth time the Miami Heat have lost a game 1 since James and Bosh signed with Miami. In each of those instances, the Heat went on to win the next four games.
The San Antonio Spurs have never lost an NBA Finals series, winning in each of their past four appearances.
Game 2 will be on Sunday night in Miami.