The Miami Heat have been defeated so infrequently since LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade in South Beach that there isn't exactly a functioning blueprint for how to beat them. The Heat have athleticism and size and smarts that are absurd even by NBA standards, and that combined with the league's best player in the prime of his career has been enough to get the Heat to their third consecutive NBA Finals.
But in the sparing success the opposition has found against Miami, particularly over the last two seasons, there seems to be a bit of a three-part plan that must be established in order to have a chance.
The opponent must be blessed with the intelligent athletes it takes to defend. The opponent must combat Miami's frenzied trapping scheme on defense by moving the ball. The opponent must limit turnovers so that the lasting image of the game isn't James and Wade streaking down the court and soaring above the rim in transition.
The San Antonio Spurs accomplished all three in a 92-88 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and now they'll have homecourt advantage the rest of the way. The Heat haven't lost back-to-back games since January 10, but now they can lose the Finals without doing so.
There's a reason the people who fashion themselves as NBA experts have been quietly saying San Antonio matches up better with Miami than any other team. A year ago, the Heat dropped Game 1 of the NBA Finals to an unfathomably talented Thunder squad, but Oklahoma City couldn't get another game the rest of the series. The Thunder might have employed the three best isolation players on Earth in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but Miami's trapping defense was enough to limit the damage.
The Spurs are a different story. They finished with the highest assist rate in the league during the regular season. The development of forward Kawhi Leonard in his second year gives San Antonio a defender in the vein of Chicago's Jimmy Butler and Indiana's Paul George, players who at times gave James fits earlier in the postseason. The Spurs also only turned the ball over four times in Game 1, with star point guard Tony Parker contributing zero.
It's true that Parker is the engine that makes San Antonio go, but stopping him isn't such an easy equation. Parker is a riddle without a solution, a lesson Miami learned the hard way in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Parker had 10 points in the final frame while James, Wade and Bosh combined for just eight. Miami shot just 5-of-18 from the field in the fourth quarter, while the Spurs were able to use the Heat's defensive aggression against them. This was basketball judo in its highest form, and the result was a game universally praised as being expertly played.
SB Nation's own Tom Ziller warned us against drawing wide conclusions from only one game when it comes to the Finals. The Heat have accomplished so many amazing things this season that doubting their ability to climb out of a 1-0 hole is simply foolish. But Game 1 did provide some immediate takeaways in its aftermath.
1. Tony Parker just might be the third best basketball player alive
James and Durant are indisputably the two best players in the NBA, in that order. It gets tricky after that. Chris Paul seems to be the consensus choice as the third best player, and the field behind him is wide open. Ask this question at midseason and names like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook and Harden were likely to come up.
We know: the narrative about Parker being underrated has been rehashed so many times that it doesn't feel apt anymore. But in a basketball climate without Derrick Rose and Kevin Love and with a limited Dwight Howard, perhaps it's time to recognize Parker as the best guard in the game today.
Paul is wonderful, but he's won only three second-round games his entire career, while Parker is 25 percent of the way to his fourth NBA title. Sure, DeAndre Jordan is no Tim Duncan, and Parker has been blessed to be drafted into the Spurs' unbreakable infrastructure. But this is the third straight season Parker's dominance has made him a viable MVP candidate, and the work he's done this postseason has been nothing short of remarkable.
It's a testament to how loaded the point guard position is right now that Parker's name is often an afterthought. Between Paul, Rose, Westbrook, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry and up-and-comers like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Jrue Holiday, it's easy to see why Parker might be forgotten. He didn't have a buzzworthy AAU career in high school. He wasn't a top draft pick. He isn't playing in a major market with loads of endorsements. But his steady brilliance -- yes, brilliance -- is undeniable at this point. Even if San Antonio doesn't win another game this series (and they will), Parker's stake as the league's third best player might be cemented.
2. LeBron picked a weird time to be unveiled as a video game cover boy
Just before tipoff of Game 1, word spread that LeBron would be on the cover of NBA 2K14. This is a bit of a minor blip in the grand scheme of things, but don't discount how much young males who make up a large cross-section of the league's diehard fanbase love that game. Plus, LeBron has never been on the cover of a video game in his 10 years of NBA dominance.
It's just weird timing, isn't it? A million blog posts will be written about James getting the cover, and all of them will now mention he's down 1-0 in the NBA Finals. And yes: Duncan has twice appeared on the cover of a video game. In 1998 and 2000. The Spurs' sustained success really is ridiculous.
3. Tim Duncan has the fashion sense of Al Borland
Not to be confused with your favorite guitarist in seventh grade, Wes Borland, though that would be awesome.
We know Dwyane Wade picked out his outfits for every game through the NBA Finals before the playoffs started. We know Westbrook and Durant use their Instagram accounts mostly to take selfies showing off their impeccable fashion sense. We know Paul George showed up to the series against the Heat looking like this.
All the while, Tim Duncan still looks like the dude who lives next door to your parents that you regularly spot on top of his riding lawnmower. NBA fashion has undergone total transformation since Allen Iverson's heyday, and Duncan has lived through all of it without changing a thing.
4. Dick Vitale is hilarious, if not altogether inappropriate.
THE GUY WHO CHEATED ON YOU REPETITIVELY, THAT GUY IS GREAT AT BASKETBALL, BABY.
Pretty sure this tweet will make me laugh forever, so I'm cool with it.