Friday, June 07, 2013

On court filled with stars, Parker emerging as Finals' best

Michael Rosenberg>INSIDE THE NBA
June 7, 2013

Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs makes a shot with 5.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat during Game One of the 2013 NBA Finals. (Getty Images)

MIAMI -- Tony Parker beat the shot clock by the thinnest of margins, after a bungled possession, but he has lived a basketball life of thin margins. This was Parker's moment, and it may yet be his Finals.

Leading 90-88, Parker dribbled everywhere, fell on his butt, looked around for an opening. From the outside, it looked like chaos. But it was also a slice of basketball wizardry. Parker did two things that only a few NBA players would do in that situation: He kept his dribble alive, and he stayed fully aware of the clock. He pulled up and under LeBron James and sank the shot that would clinch a 92-88 win in Game 1 for the San Antonio Spurs. There was less than a tenth of a second in the shot clock when he released the shot.

James and his friends should be worried right now, and not just because the government is tracking their phone calls. The Spurs were the steadier team, the smoother team, and when it mattered most, they had the best player on the floor.

Parker finished with 21 points, the most on either team. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. In 40 minutes at point guard against a variety of defenders and traps, he did not commit a single turnover. Try dribbling through traffic cones for 40 minutes without losing the ball once. Parker just did it against the NBA champions.

Led by Parker, the Spurs committed only four turnovers. This is what the Spurs do, and why they are perpetually overlooked. They don't demolish teams with athleticism or decimate them with defense. They just hang in games until they win. It looks like the other team beats itself. The Spurs don't care, and Parker especially doesn't care.

The guy is everything you want a winner to be. If he were American, you would have seen a dozen commercials about his toughness and read 100 stories about his heart. Instead, you'll just have to settle for this one.

"Never panics, never nervous," said Spurs teammate Boris Diaw, who grew up in France with Parker. "He is always confident in himself. That's what brought him to this level. When we were growing up, when he was a kid, he always had great confidence in himself."

A lot of people just assume the Spurs are too old, and I have occasionally been one of those people. But the Spurs are not too old. They have just been winning for a long time. There is a difference.

In Parker, the Spurs have a true superstar in his prime, surrounded by enough talent of varying generations to give anybody fits. Tim Duncan is old, but Kawhi Leonard is young. Manu Ginobili has been around forever, but Tiago Splitter just cracked the starting lineup this year.

You know who else is old? Ray AllenMike MillerShane BattierChris Andersen. The Heat need at least two of them to play well to beat the Spurs on any given night. Some nights, Dwyane Wade looks old, too.

Parker is as smooth as any NBA star in a press conference. Thursday night, he spoke glowingly of James and Wade and humbly about his own performance, and it all hid an assassin's heart. He is here to destroy the Heat, every bit as much as Wade and James want to whip the Spurs.

The telling moment of Parker's media session came after his press conference. In a hallway at American Airlines Arena, Parker took questions from the French-speaking media, shortly after Ginobili had taken questions from the Spanish-speaking media in the same spot. Ginobili was surrounded by considerably more people. But one of Parker's greatest accomplishments is that the French care about basketball at all.

Diaw once told me of his youth basketball days in France: "Either you wanted to dream or you wanted to be realistic. Realistically, there was no path to the NBA." Parker believed. Always. Even as a nine-year old in basketball camps in Normandy.

So there they were in Game 1, the three superstars who tried to create a dynasty, and the little Spurs point guard who had to fight for his job after he won his first championship in 2003.

James had a very good game by any reasonable measure, though James is rarely measured reasonably. But Chris Bosh is fighting an allergy to paint, Wade was scoreless in the fourth, and Parker scored those 10 points in the final quarter, including that final shot.

If he were Kobe Bryant, we'd talk about how clutch he is.

If he were Dwyane Wade, we'd marvel at his body control.

He isn't. He is Tony Parker, an unlikely superstar on an unusual contending team, and Miami had better figure him out. Fast.

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