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 San Antonio Spurs withstood LeBron James’ triple-double to beat the Miami Heat 92-88 on Thursday night in a thrilling Game 1.
Six years after the Spurs were last here and 14 years after the 37-year-old Duncan made his finals debut in 1999, he, Parker and Manu Ginobili earned their 99th postseason victory together, second-most in league history.
They don’t care if they’re called old. Three more victories, they’ll also be called champions again.
“We’re here to win. It doesn’t matter how we’re categorised. It’s been a lot of years since we’ve been here. We’re just happy to be back here,” said Duncan, who is trying to join John Salley as the only NBA player to win titles in three decades.
“Old, veterans, whatever you want to call us, we’re in the mix right now.”
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 the game that was close the whole way.
“We got a little bit lucky in Game 1,” Parker said. “Sometimes that’s what it takes to win games.”
Playing for the championship for the first time since sweeping James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007 for their fourth title, 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 who battled injuries throughout the season, finished with 13 points. Danny Green had 12.
San Antonio turned up its defense in the fourth quarter, limiting Miami to seven points in the first 8½ minutes in returning to the finals just the way it left — with a victory over James.
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.
“The Spurs are the Spurs,” James said. “They’re going to put you in positions where you feel uncomfortable offensively and defensively, and every time you make a mistake, they’re going to capitalise on it.”
Game 2 is Sunday night.
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.
“This is a hell of a game to play because both teams are so good offensively and defensively,” Bosh said. “You can’t have any letdowns.”
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