MIAMI – The San Antonio Spurs returned to the NBA Finals just the way they left – with a victory over LeBron James.
Tim Duncan overcame a slow start to finish with 20 points and 14 rebounds, Tony Parker banked in a desperation jumper on a broken play with 5.2 seconds left and the Spurs withstood James’ triple-double to beat the Miami Heat 92-88 on Thursday in a thrilling Game 1.
Parker ended up with 21 points after referees reviewed his shot to make sure it just beat the shot clock, giving San Antonio a four-point edge in a game that was close the whole way.
“Tony’s shot is one of those things that happens sometimes,” Manu Ginobili said. “We got lucky today.”
James had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in his second straight NBA Finals triple-double, but he shot only 7 of 16 against some good defense by Kawhi Leonard, and Miami’s offense stalled in the fourth quarter.
Playing for the championship for the first time since sweeping James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007, the Spurs improved to 5-for-5 in Game 1s, hanging around for three quarters and then blowing by the defending champions midway through the fourth.
Ginobili, the third member of San Antonio’s Big Three that has combined for 99 postseason victories together, finished with 13 points, and Danny Green had 12.
“It doesn’t matter how we’re categorized – old, veterans, whatever you call us, we’re in the mix,” Duncan said.
James became a champion on this floor last year in Game 5 against Oklahoma City, but he hasn’t forgotten his first taste of the finals.
The Spurs overwhelmed his Cavaliers and James spoke Wednesday like someone who had payback in mind. He was 22 then, a fourth-year player headed for greatness but with holes in his game that San Antonio exploited.
Revenge won’t come easily – if it comes at all.
Dwyane Wade scored 17 points for the Heat but was shut out in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh had only two of his 13 in the final period.
James shot an airball on a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt, then was soon back to the step-in-front-of-him-at-your-own-risk force that has made him the game’s best player.
But San Antonio handled that and everything else Miami did, even while only shooting 42 percent from the field.
Forced to seven grueling games by the rugged Indiana Pacers in the East finals, the Heat clearly enjoyed the more wide-open flow of this game, making 18 of their first 30 shots. But the Spurs’ defense got better as the game went along, and San Antonio held the Heat to seven points in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the final quarter.
“I thought we were a little fatigued … in the fourth quarter,” Wade said. “Looking around, we looked like a team that came off a seven-game series.”
Miami outshot and outrebounded San Antonio in the first half, yet led only 52-49. The Heat stayed ahead until Parker’s free throws gave San Antonio a 77-76 edge with 7:47 remaining. James set up Bosh for a jumper on the next possession for his 10th assist, but Leonard made a follow shot and Parker turned James’ turnover into a spinning layup and an 81-78 lead exactly halfway through the fourth.
Green’s 3-pointer right after James missed one pushed the Spurs’ lead to seven at 88-81 with 2:12 to go, before a drive by James and three free throws by Ray Allen pulled Miami back within two, setting up Parker’s basket that put it away.
Parker lost control of the ball and his balance as the clock was set to expire. He gathered the ball and his footing, turning and tossing it in as the light above the basket turned red.
It was an entertaining start to a matchup that seemed years in the making between perennial contenders, the Spurs making their fifth appearance and the Heat their fourth.
Duncan joined Elgin Baylor, A.C. Green and John Salley as the only players in NBA history to make a finals appearance in three decades.