By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
MIAMI — One by one, Tony Parker was confronted by Miami's Big Three, surrounded even as the shot clock ticked toward zero and his San Antonio Spurs clung to a two-point lead.
And just when Parker appeared to have nowhere to go, when everything was going wrong for the speedy French point guard, he did what he's done these entire playoffs, and his entire career for that matter. He found a way.
Parker's leaning, twisting, step-through bank shot with 5.2 seconds left lifted the Spurs to a 92-88 victory over the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, a massive first step toward the franchise's fifth championship.
"It was a crazy play," said Parker, who finished with 21 points and six assists. "I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn't work out like I wanted it to. At the end, I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I was happy it went in."
The shot punctuated a triumphant return to the finals for the Spurs, who haven't been here since 2007. Capturing title No. 5 may be the most difficult task yet for these ageless Spurs, who handed the star-studded Heat just their fifth loss at home this season.
James and the Heat had slashed a seven-point, fourth-quarter deficit to two with 30 seconds remaining, and that's when Parker pulled out practically every trick in a bag stuffed full of them over a 12-year career to clinch Game 1.
The 31-year-old engine of the Spurs was face-to-face with Chris Bosh after a screen near the top of the key to start the possession. Parker immediately scooted past him to the right, leaving one Heat All-Star in the dust. He then avoided a swipe at the ball from Dwyane Wade as he headed toward the baseline.
Nice try, All-Star No. 2.
When he got close to the baseline, Parker was met by James, the reigning MVP. He lost the handle when James came to help, but was able to pull the ball back in and maintain possession as he turned his back to the basket and frantically searched for space.
When Parker tried to turn the corner on James and face the basket, he slipped and fell down to his knee, the precious seconds on the shot clock disappearing far too slowly for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's liking.
"That seemed like a 26-second possession," Spoelstra said. "But we played it all the way through. That's probably what this series is about. It's going to go down to the last tenth of a second. Every single play you have to push through all the way to the end, and we didn't."
And Parker did.
"It seemed like forever, too," he said.
Somehow he gathered himself, stood up, pivoted twice and stepped through an outstretched James' arm. He let the shot fly a split-second before the shot-clock buzzer went off and the ball hit high off the glass, bounced twice on the rim and dropped through the net.
Au revoir, All-Star No. 3.
"Tony did everything wrong and did everything right in the same possession," James said. "He stumbled two or three times. He fell over. And when he fell over, I was like, `OK, I'm going to have to tie this ball up. ... That was the longest 24 seconds that I've been a part of."
Just the way coach Gregg Popovich drew it up.
"We were very fortunate," Popovich said. "It looked like he lost it two or three times. But he stuck with it. He kept competing. He gained control of it again. He got it up there on the rim. Great effort by Tony, and as I said, we were fortunate."
In some ways, that play represented the entirety of the Spurs' effort in Game 1. The Heat led for most of the first three quarters, shooting 50 percent from the field and threatening to blow the game open on several occasions. But Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have all been here before.
They didn't get rattled by the white-clad crowd's roar. They didn't back down when James and Wade barreled toward the rim. They kept their cool, remained focused and never lost hope, even when it seemed to be evaporating all around them.
As Parker dropped to one knee on San Antonio's final possession, Duncan said he had no idea what to think. The seconds were disappearing and James and the Heat were charging, and all Duncan could do was hope his unflappable teammate would find a way.
"I see him go down and I'm just praying he gets a shot off," said Duncan, who had 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. "Obviously, Tony makes an unbelievable play. He does just about everything in the book that he had. He fell to the ground, pump-faked, stepped through, and still got it off the ground. It was just amazing."