Secret to Spurs' system? Selfless stars
San Antonio's electric offensive performance in Game 3 was, as is so often the case in Spurs wins, a tribute to the collective. Together, the Spurs scorched the Heat for 71 points on 76-percent shooting in the opening half -- enough to build a 21-point lead by intermission and weather the inevitable comeback that followed. There has never been a scoring half so crushing in the history of the NBA Finals, in part because there have been so few teams on the operational level of these Spurs.
Theirs is an empowering synergy. San Antonio's ball movement creates sure scoring balance, and in Game 3 eight different Spurs players wound up contributing five points or more (and 11 scored total). The rotating cast of seemingly interchangeable parts draws deserved praise for both Gregg Popovich and his "system" above all else. Within the system catch-all is a specificity of meaning without singling out any particular player; even casual fans of the NBA have some grip on the particulars of Spurs basketball, and it's through that understanding that this all-time team is generally appreciated.
Such is only right for a team that plays together cohesively and without fail. The only problem with seeing the forest for, well, the forest is that some magic rests in the trees. The Spurs' landscape is lush and impressive only because of all the texture in the games of individual components. Tim Duncan's help defense. Danny Green's curl routes. Manu Ginobili's step-back jumper. All contribute to the bigger picture and San Antonio's grander designs, yet shouldn't be completely lost within them.
Take, for instance, Tuesday's understated showing by All-NBA point guard Tony Parker. To the extent that the Spurs' performance could be headlined by any one player, it wouldn't be him; Kawhi Leonard put up a playoff career-high 28 points in the win, Danny Green came up big with 7-of-8 shooting from the field and Boris Diaw's insertion into the starting lineup (and 37 minutes played) stretched his already considerable impact on this series. Parker, meanwhile, finished with a mere 15 points and four assists while shooting the lowest percentage of any Spurs starter.
Even still Parker is the kind of player who can help shape a game without filling the box score. It may have been Leonard and Green who punctuated the Spurs' runs, but it's by Parker's steady hand that those surges in scoring were maintained in the first place. Parker was perfectly balanced in his initiation of the offense in Game 3, which is in itself an achievement against a Miami team that applies a lot of schematic pressure. From the very first play of the game, Parker's reads against the defense were on-point:
There was no box score credit in this thread for Parker, even though it was his ability to calmly reroute the ball out of a Heat trap that set up the Spurs to play four-on-three basketball. The result: A Diaw drive and a lightly contested layup for Tim Duncan. In true Spurs fashion, all five players on the floor (even Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, who helped maintain proper spacing) had some influence in the way this sequence unfolded. Parker, though, provided the trigger. Without him, Diaw doesn't have his driving lane nor Duncan his layup.
One can find similar possessions strewn throughout Game 3, specifically remarkable only in Parker's measured play. It's difficult to make judgment calls on the fly against two smothering defenders and a line of athletes waiting to jump into the passing lanes, yet Parker waited as long as necessary, reworked the angles, and moved the offense along:
It was not by coincidence that San Antonio's biggest runs -- a 14-2 stretch in the mid-first, a 14-2 hit to start the second and a 12-4 burst to extend the lead in the fourth -- came largely with Parker on the floor. He didn't actively create a bulk of those scores, yet Parker's willingness to press the defense and quickly give up the ball set so many of the Spurs' possessions in motion. This, for a point guard, is true unselfishness. Parker's offerings are often forgotten by the second or third pass in a sequence and at times absent traditional counting stats. Yet the momentum of his actions carries from one phase to the next, imbuing the offense with its pulse:
Other star guards would not be content to do the same. There's glory to be had in creating shots more directly and thus reason to dominate the ball. Parker eschews both in service of the system, which in Game 3 guided San Antonio to staggering efficiency. Parker had more touches and passes than any other Spur despite playing just 33 minutes. In all of that movement -- the trapped pick-and-rolls, the hounded drives, the contested curls -- he committed one turnover. He forced compromises without forcing the issue, and gave up control when it suited the offense. To maintain that balance through wave after wave of Miami's counterattack was crucial, if largely overlooked. Trust that it did not go unnoticed by the arbiter who matters most for Parker:
That moment between Parker and Popovich was well earned, even on a night where other players posted superior stat lines and the Spurs on the whole played stunningly well. This victory belongs to the system. It's character, though, is drawn from its distinct individual operators.
More SI.com NBA Finals coverage
FINALS X-FACTORS: Parker’s injured ankle, Battier, Ginobili and moreGreatest upsets NBA playoffs fashion LeBron’s best playoff games