Philadelphia, PA – The San Antonio Spurs are breathtaking to watch.
Actually, it's the exact opposite if you ask the average fan.
While most of the NBA has turned into leaping and flying down the court, the Spurs just continue to excel thanks to brilliant decisions, precise execution and an unwavering belief in what they do.
That's why they won Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the defending champion Miami Heat in South Beach Thursday night.
The Spurs matched an NBA Finals record for fewest turnovers with four. That had to be jarring to a Heat team who watched the Indiana Pacers cough it up on almost a third of their possessions in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite facing a deficit as large as nine, it would be easy to say the Spurs didn't panic. That's simplifying San Antonio. They never needed to panic because they did what they do better than any team in the NBA. The trust is there because the results are there. The Spurs have four championships since 1999 with a core of Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
And here's what they do best - ratchet up the defense, protect the basketball, execute like master craftsmen and trust the stars to perform.
First, the defense tightened up extraordinarily in the fourth quarter. The Spurs allowed the Heat 16 measly points and 36 in the second half. That would be eight more than Miami had in the second quarter alone.
And how about those turnovers. Duncan accounted for two of the four, but Parker had zero. Not a single turnover for a point guard who played almost 40 minutes and in the fourth quarter, he had LeBron James, the best wing defender in the sport, inhabiting his space.
Don't mistake the importance of minimizing turnovers. As Kenny Smith pointed out on NBA TV after the game, Miami breaks your heart when they get on the break. The Heat can't run without the ball.
"I have no clue. We didn't do 'no turnover' drills," said head coach Gregg Popovich.
Offensively, Popovich's game plan is equal parts simple, equal parts genius.
When James picked up Parker, it was pick-and-roll city and Miami switched. Late in the game, Parker got matchups with Chris Bosh and Mike Miller defending him thanks to screen and roll.
And there's always that trust factor. It extends past the Alamo City Big Three.
Danny Green buried four 3-pointers. Kawhi Leonard had 10 points and 10 rebounds, while holding (?) James to 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Popovich puts unconditional faith in his secondary players and they delivered.
But it all ultimately goes back to the offensive game plan late.
Leave the ball in Parker's hands and he will deliver.
He scored 10 of his 21 in the final frame and the defining moment was the up- and-under bucket with James hanging on him like hotel-room drapes as the shot clock expired. That beyond-clutch basket give the Spurs a four-point cushion with less than six seconds remaining.
If anyone on San Antonio is breathtaking, it's Parker. His tight spin move will be shown over and over again, as will his icing hoop. Popovich continually touted Parker as an MVP candidate until he injured his ankle late in the season. He was right.
Parker is the Spurs franchise now and it started with his Finals MVP the last time the Spurs won it all back in 2007. Yes, Duncan is perhaps the best power- forward of all-time. Yes, Duncan was First-Team All-NBA this season. And, yes, Duncan was strong in Game 1 with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
But Parker is the best player on the team. He showed it on Thursday. It was his game in the fourth quarter, not Duncan's, not James'.
"In the fourth quarter I tried to be more aggressive, obviously, because it's money time," said Parker. "If LeBron is on me, I just have to try to keep playing the same way, pick-and-rolls. I have to trust everybody. We're a team. We play as a team. And everybody has to contribute."
Perfectly said - business as usual for the San Antonio Spurs.