There is no question entering the 2014 NBA Finals that the San Antonio Spurs exist in a dynastic nature. Since 1999, which also happens to coincide with the arrival of Tim Duncan, the Spurs have won four NBA Championships, have won 50+ games in every season except the 1999 lockout season when they won 37 games (which is a 61-win pace during an 82-game season), and have been perennial title contenders.
What’s remarkable about the Spurs is how they stand in stark contrast to their opponents for the 2014 Finals, the Miami Heat. While the Heat boast their three stars of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh that garner spotlight every time that they touch the hardwood, the Spurs boast a three-man tandem of Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker that have thrived on seemingly ducking the spotlight whenever possible.
As we prepare for game one of the 2014 Finals on Thursday night, though, Parker won’t be able to evade the spotlight at all. In fact, the spotlight will be almost solely focused on Parker.
In game six of the Western Conference Finals as the Spurs dismissed the Oklahoma City Thunder, Parker didn’t touch the floor in the second half due to an ankle injury. His status seemed to be in question to start the Finals, but he said early this week that he would be in the lineup come Thursday. However, injuries have plagued him all postseason and you have to expect that it’s going to be something that will still be hampering his play.
In terms of the Spurs, Parker’s injury could prove to change their offense a bit if it’s at all debilitating. One of the things that Parker does so well for San Antonio’s offense is to either attack off of the dribble in isolation or in the pick-and-roll. Not only does this attack open up chances at the rim for himself, but it often opens up guys like Duncan for looks around the basket and opportunities for the Spurs’ bevy of shooters on the perimeter. If he can’t attack at full-speed, that’s going to hinder San Antonio’s offense and will demand a slight tweak in their system.
If you’re the Heat, the gut reaction has to be to put Parker to the test from the opening tip in game one. Parker isn’t the most skilled defender to begin with, so attacking him when he’s got a bad wheel seems like a pretty logical tactical move. The issue that arises with that, though, is that strategy would put the ball in the hands of Mario Chalmers quite a bit. Chalmers is often underrated in terms of his skill, but he’s also not the guy you want dominating the ball on a team that has the star-power that the Heat do.
However, what would be an interesting look for the Heat in trying to exploit Parker is when they dip into their bench. If they go to their bench with Parker still on the floor and run out a lineup of Ray Allen, Wade, LeBron, Bosh and whatever big man they choose, that would likely match Parker up with Allen. With James as the de-facto point guard in that lineup, Allen’s off-ball movement and through screens—a trait that still hasn’t left the veteran—could wind up with a ton of open looks for one of the purest shooters in the game. For those stretches, the Heat could light up the Spurs.
There will clearly be other factors in game one and throughout this series, especially when you’re talking about a series that features as many future Hall of Famers as this matchup does. However, when the series begins in San Antonio on Thursday night, the Heat will be looking to gain an advantage while the Spurs will be looking to keep their vaunted system in-tact. In both instances, Parker and his ankle will be the focal-point.