He held the fate of the league’s two best teams and the collective attention of the basketball universe in his hands. For 23.9 seconds, the Spurs held the ball, ahead by two points. They needed one final basket to steal a Game 1 victory they knew they had come too far to leave Miami without.
Parker made a shot for the ages, and one that may ultimately help him make good on a promise that he made to Tim Duncan – a promise to ride off into the sunset with a fifth championship ring.
One down, three to go.
Like a police officer on a stakeout, Parker parked. At halfcourt, he stood, holding the basketball as if it was his newborn.
And with 15 seconds remaining, like a ballroom dancer, he made his move and began to waltz.
Having played 39 minutes without a turnover, he was determined to not commit his first on the game’s most critical possession.
The decisive play – one that will go down in Spurs history and become the Zapruder film of France – began to materialize with just seven seconds on the shot clock and 15 seconds left in the ballgame.
Miraculously, Parker won a battle that saw him break free from four different Heat players.
LeBron James drew him initially, but Mike Miller and James switched off a screen. Then Chris Bosh switched onto Parker off Tim Duncan’s screen. Realizing that Parker suddenly had a mismatch, Duncan took Miller out of the play.
Bosh stepped out on Parker at the top of the key before Parker easily accelerated past him while slightly losing his balance. Even still, he managed to control his dribble enough to thwart Dwyane Wade’s attempt to swipe the ball away.
Parker would have none of it.
Two and three defenders down.
Now with a step on Bosh – still his primary defender – Parker made a beeline to the basket. But LeBron James, guarding Kawhi Leonard, stepped out and interrupted Parker’s foray. Parker did a U-turn and James stepped out to challenge him.
Parker retreated behind the 3-point line and realized that there were only three seconds remaining on the shot clock. James stuck to him and – for a second – the 2007 NBA Finals MVP panicked. Parker lost his footing as he tried to create separation from James and fell to the floor.
James, now the fourth defender attempting to foil Parker’s attempt to win the game for his team, was determined to not allow Parker to escape. James, hungry for his second NBA title, simply would not allow him.
James stayed with Parker, who – ever thinking – had the presence of mind to keep his dribble alive, even with one knee on the floor.
Parker got up and with James draped all over him, pivoted, pump-faked and barely got off an up-and-under shot that took a total of 23.95 seconds to to leave his hands.
It seemed to take just as long for the dark brown leather basketball to find its way through the bottom of the net.
Once it left Parker’s hands, it sailed toward the hoop on an angle that seemed a bit awry.
It kissed the glass once and bounced on the front of the rim. The ball hung there just long enough to tease Wade.
Wade, realizing the importance of securing the rebound, mustered the strength in his creaky knees and exploded from the floor in an attempt to secure it.
But alas, the ball was still on the cylinder, so Wade wisely let Parker’s shot choose its own fate.
It bounced once more and fell backward, eventually falling through the net.
Defeated, exasperated and gasping, Wade immediately began flailing his arms, contesting that Parker’s release came after the shot clock had expired.
But unfortunately for Wade and James – the final one to attempt to stop Parker on the game’s decisive play – the replay revealed that the shot clearly left Parker’s hands a split-second before the shot clock expired.
Parker had defeated the Heat – and, in one possession, four of its five players – in Game 1.
“That seemed like a 26-second possession,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra arrogantly said after his team’s 92-88 loss.
“That’s probably what this series is about. It’s going to go down to the last 10th of a second.”
If only we should be so lucky.