I can't take this. I can't take five more games like this. I definitely can't take six more. I feel like my brain is going to cave in and my heart's going to explode out of my chest. It's like being trapped inside a horror movie. I want this so bad. We all do, every bit as much as the players and coaches. This is supposed to be meaningless entertainment but it doesn't feel fun at all. It's just pure stress, the way playing hands of blackjack for amounts you aren't comfortable losing is pure stress. Why would anyone do this during their so-called "leisure" time? Even winning isn't elation or cause for happiness. It's just relief and looking back at all the things that could've gone wrong and dread for Game 2. Some people are complaining about having to wait until Sunday and I'm thinking, "What's the rush?" Lets make it like football any play 'em once a week.
Here's something we have to understand, something that we have to admit to ourselves: The Heat are good. They are so, so very good. I mean it's a stupid, obvious thing to say, but watching them from afar, against other teams where there isn't that same emotional stake for Spurs fans, you see their success, their ridiculous athleticism on both ends of the floor, and watch them win games and series and even a championship, but it doesn't register in the same way when they're playing someone else.
Watching them Thursday night though, oh man. They are such a mountain in class above our previous competition in the playoffs that it's a joke. The Grizzlies are NOTHING compared to this team. The Warriors are like some summertime scrimmage. Miami is an absolute nightmare, and as ironic as it sounds, considering that the nature of highlights is they're primarily focused on the offensive end of the floor, they're way more terrifying defensively than on offense where, LeBron's explosive brilliance aside, they look relatively human. On defense though, they're a bunch of ninjas.
Of course, the inverse has to be true for Heat fans (the real ones, not the front-runners like "The Biebs" or Flo-Rida and all those preppy bros looking like they want to check out a couple of sweet LeBron alley-oops before returning to the set of the Coors Light commercial). Right now they're probably thinking, "Good lord, does Parker EVER make a mistake? Does everyone on this team pass like a point guard? Can they ever miss one defensive rotation?"
Nah, just kidding, there are no real Heat fans.
The point stands though, that Miami is far and away the most daunting challenge the Spurs have ever faced in the Duncan era. They've lost to Lakers and Thunder teams worse than these guys. The '05 Pistons weren't this good. Those teams were either terrific on one end of the floor or other, but against LA and OKC you never felt like it would be some massive undertaking to score and against Detroit, as good as their defense was, we could almost relax when the Pistons had the rock, because their offense was ordinary, without any superduperstars on it. The Heat are a whole other story. Beating them -- if the Spurs do indeed go on to do that -- would be beyond a good story. It'd be epic. It'd be like beating the Bulls during Jordan's prime. It would elevate the narrative of Tim Duncan's, Tony Parker's and Gregg Popovich's legacies to levels that seemed impossible to imagine. We could be on the verge of altering history here, Quantum Leap style.
The story of Game 1 was obviously the turnovers --or lack thereof-- by both teams but particularly the Spurs. 12 giveaways in all, eight of them by Miami, and half of those in the fourth quarter, where fatigue, both physical and mental, may have set in for the Heat and they were more careless than they had been during the first 36 minutes. Combine that with a refereeing crew that collectively left their whistles in their dressing room (only 24 fouls, total, called all game) and let a ton of contact by both teams go, and you had a very "clean" game, the equivalent of a pitchers duel in baseball, where both teams' aces just mow down the opposing lineups, nobody in the field makes an error, and somebody wins it 1-0 on a sacrifice fly.
It was such a high level of basketball by both teams, a chess match between grandmasters, with possession after possession where so few mistakes were made on both ends of the floor that the level of coordinated execution it took to get and snuff out good looks was staggering to behold. Neither team gave an inch, neither relaxed for a moment, and it felt like guys were really letting their teammates down every time they missed an open look, like "How can you not make that? Do you have any idea how hard we worked to get you that shot?"
Conversely, it must have felt like a kick in the gut for either team whenever somebody made a contested shot, in a "How did that go in? We did EVERYTHING right" kind of way.
92-88. A four-point game. Two baskets. The Duncan buzzer-beater right before halftime and the Parker homage to Curly Neal at the end. That's it. That's the difference between the two teams in Game 1. We could be headed toward the best Finals since Bulls-Suns in 1993.
(Unless the Spurs lose. Then we'll never speak of this again.)
Parker's leaner to beat the shot clock with 5.7 seconds to go capped off a brilliant game for him, and he got the deserved plaudits as the hero of Game 1 (almost to an annoying degree since Duncan's 20-14-4-3 was largely ignored), but he was largely lost during the meat of the game, held to just five points combined in the second and third quarters, on 2-of-5 shooting, with four assists.
Yet that caretaker role in that 17:46 of playing time was really a microcosm of the game. The Heat threw the kitchen sink at him in terms of their trapping and blitzing, and Parker happily passed the ball up, didn't force anything, content to provide the hockey assist or nothing at all.
In fact, a couple of Ginobili gambles aside, the story of the game was how willing the Spurs were to sacrifice some of their trademark passing genius in the name of not turning it over. They had a Hippocratic Oath approach ("first, do no harm") and were more than happy to trade in a bunch of lost, contested-jumper-with-three-seconds-left-in-the-shot-clock possessions rather than maybe a half dozen slick layups and lord knows how many highlight dunks for the Heat when the passes needed to produce those go awry. Pop must have hammered that message into them relentlessly for a week, "Make the simple pass, don't be a hero, don't worry about creating a good look, a crappy shot is better than a turnover."
The box score says the Spurs finished with 16 assists. Yeah, they could've had 25, but probably 15 turnovers too. The challenge will be to increase the former without increasing the latter. Some of that is as simple as knocking down open shots, but maybe as the series goes on they'll start to figure out the rotations of the Heat defenders, recognize the patterns, and be able to play faster, to make quicker decisions, without being reckless about it, true "Neo-ball."
We'll have to see. If ever there was a game for them to be slow and sluggish and conservative offensively it was after a nine day layoff. Hopefully they'll be sharper going forward. No matter how careful they were though, just having four turnovers, with no travels or offensive fouls or shot clock violations, was miraculous.
Shoot, the Pacers committed four turnovers in the time it took you to read this sentence.
It almost came as a product of desperation, with the Spurs down 38-29 midway through the second quarter and Duncan looking to get himself going after a rusty 0-of-5 first quarter, but even he must've been surprised how easily he backed down Chris Andersen in the post before laying it in. Sure, Birdman was trying one of his weaksauce "pulling the chair" maneuvers on that play, but you could almost see the lightbulb flash above Duncan's head, as he had, to borrow a phrase from Shaq, a "barbecue chicken" epiphany about the Heat's so-called bigs.
"Wait a second," Duncan must have thought. "This seems familiar. I used to do this, play with my back to the basket, quite often back in the day, didn't I? Lets see if I remember how."
You have to think the Spurs have found something that they can exploit for Game 2 and beyond, and I'd be pretty surprised if they don't go to "four down" early and often, a flashback to their boring days. If it works enough, the Heat will have no choice but to double, and that's where it gets fun for the shooters.
It could mean something, it could mean nothing, but the Spurs scored the final points of every quarter, and it not only allowed the Heat to never get too far away from them, but it also sent them into those breaks with momentum and positive reinforcement, a "we're right there," confidence boost.
Miami was up 24-19 with a minute to go in the first, and the Spurs close with a Neal jumper, a Manu steal and a Manu floater to make it 24-23 after one.
The Heat were ahead 50-44 with a minute to go in the first half, but the Spurs closed on a 5-2 run, behind a Parker free throw, a pair of blocks by Green and Duncan, a Parker layup, and then Duncan's walkoff jumper, which answered a super difficult make from Wade with six seconds to go that would've been deflating had it been the final points of the half.
Finally, in a Sisyphus-esque third quarter where the Spurs could never quite get over the hump, Ginobili earned a couple of free throws with three seconds left, converting both to keep it a three point game going into the fourth.
Oh, and Parker did something at the end of the fourth quarter, but I forget what.
To be continued...