Tony Parker caused the Heat problems late in Game 1.
There might not be enough time to find a remedy by Sunday for Game 2.
But after seeing him carve through their defense during San Antonio's mistake-free fourth quarter, the Heat now face the challenge of addressing their Parker problem while also managing to limit multiple side effects.
As it prepares for Game 2, Miami -- having lost 92-88 Thursday -- is dealing with the same sort of pick-your-poison predicament that its opponents usually face against the Heat, and is desperately scrambling for answers.
Parker scored 10 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, and had a counter for every defensive wrinkle the Heat threw at him -- including a shot clock-beating jumper in the final seconds to help secure the win.
Not even shifting LeBron James onto Parker in the final minutes seemed to disrupt the Spurs' late-game execution. Even as the Heat honed in on Parker, San Antonio's ball movement and spacing created opportunities for all five starters to score during a period in which the Spurs outscored Miami 23-16 and didn't commit a turnover.
“Against a very good basketball team, you hold them to 42 percent shooting, you hold them to 92 points, normally with our offense, we think we're in the driver's seat,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But there's a small margin of error both ways. You have to make plays every single possession. When you don't, and you don't concentrate on things you need to, you pay the price. We have to regroup.”
Among those adjustments for the Heat will involve finding a way to get a better handle on Parker without losing a grip on Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and floor-spacing shooters Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. It's almost exactly the same dynamic teams deal with when they try to stop James while also keeping close track of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and deep threats in Ray Allen and Shane Battier when the Heat's offense is clicking at its peak late in games.
The Spurs said they expected the Heat to try to slow Parker late in the game by eventually handing the defensive assignment to James. They were ready when James arrived.
Instead of Parker trying to force his own offense, he continued to run pick-and-roll sets that occupied James with the screener. When the Heat trapped Parker, he moved the ball to teammates for the first in a series of swing passes that eventually found an open spot-up shooter.
That balance led to a jumper from Parker with 3:30 left that put the Spurs ahead by four. A minute later, Parker was forced to give up the ball in a sequence that ultimately led to Ginobili swinging it to Green for a 3-pointer to increase the lead to 88-81 with 2:13 remaining.
The offense was far from flawless in a quarter that saw the Spurs miss 14 of 23 shots. But Parker's execution against the Heat's defense in key stages made it seem that way.
“Tony made some great calls to get some switches in the right places,” Duncan said. “We understand that when it comes down to it, LeBron is going to be their best defender. They are going to put him on Tony. We have to continue to execute, continue to attack and just try to get [Parker] as much space as possible.”
Parker said he's grown accustomed to teams using bigger players to defend him late in games. Miami has used James in a similar capacity in past playoff series on point guards such as Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. During the second-round series against Chicago this postseason, James even spent a few shifts on 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson after he torched the Heat for 27 points in the Bulls' Game 1 victory in Miami.
Parker said he watched film with coach Gregg Popovich of the Heat's tendencies when James changes assignments. The key was to avoid being rattled by the pressure.
“I knew he was coming,” Parker said of James. “I think the key for me in this series is to be patient and choose my moments when to be aggressive. If LeBron is on me, I just have to try to keep playing the same way. I have to trust everybody. We're a team. Everybody has to contribute.”
Containing Parker might prove to be as difficult a task as trying to limit James, who had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in the losing effort. The Heat have had problems all season with quick, efficient and aggressive point guards. Parker has averaged 22.6 points and 7.3 assists while shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range in the postseason.
He's shown an ability to beat opponents with his shooting, by penetrating or strictly facilitating for his teammates. In Game 1, he was at the peak of his game. Parker played a team-high 40 minutes, had six assists and did not commit a turnover. It was the most minutes he's played in a postseason game in his career without a turnover.
With Parker knocking down 9 of 18 shots in Game 1, the Spurs improved to 8-0 this postseason when he shoots at least 50 percent from the field. Moving forward, the Heat might look to use multiple defenders and schemes earlier in games to push Parker out of his offensive comfort zone.
“Obviously, Tony is the engine behind everything, so we just have to do a better job,” Wade said. “As the series goes on, we'll make adjustments. We'll get to see where we can be better at defensively. Give them credit. They came in and didn't shoot the ball very well, but they stuck with it.”
The Heat head into Sunday's game believing that their own offensive ineptness in the fourth quarter created even more problems for them than Parker. Miami shot 27 percent and committed five of their nine turnovers in the fourth quarter, a period when Wade and Bosh combined for two points.
“In the fourth quarter, we had some mental mistakes,” James said. “And it's only a couple of teams you can't have mistakes against, especially in the fourth [quarter]. And San Antonio is definitely the No. 1 team.”