Tony Parker Puts His Money Where His Mouth Wasn't to Lead San Antonio Spurs

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMay 30, 2012

SAN ANTONIO—Tony Parker spoke up last summer with his mouth.

“We can no longer say that we’re playing for a championship,” he said.

Tuesday night, as San Antonio rolled to its 20th consecutive victory and its 10th straight in these playoffs, his game did all the talking.

There are unconfirmed reports that his 34-point, eight-assist gabfest made the ladies on The View jealous. He could have dedicated his latest magnum opus to the women who deride men for never sharing their feelings.

Parker was quite candid against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Every ruthless drive and mid-range hit sent an unmistakable message to the young guns holding on for dear life to their season-long status as the ones to beat in the Western Conference—better luck next year—not this time.

He unleashed an array of commanding drives and scintillating finishes to help the Spurs speed past the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-111 in Game 2. The league’s hottest team needs two more Ws to advance to its fifth NBA Finals.

San Antonio’s Parisian paint piranha has been here before.

Such as: the spring and summer of 2007, when he proved himself uncontainable and hoisted a Finals MVP trophy.

Or, there's 2009, when he ran roughshod over opponents and carried the Spurs to a second-place finish in the conference, despite Manu Ginobili’s extended, devastating absence. He earned All-NBA third team honors for his efforts, but a blistering first-round performance, during which he erupted for 45 points in a joust at Dallas, could not prevent San Antonio from bowing in five games to the Mavericks.

Brandon Bass and J.J. Barea combined for 27 in the series opener at the AT&T Center, offsetting 51 from Tim Duncan and Parker.

The effectiveness of the silver and black supporting cast has always shaped how pundits view the Frenchman.

Parker, then, shared the court with a 36-year-old Michael Finley and an overachieving Roger Mason. That team did not feature a second frontcourt option on Tiago Splitter’s level or even a wild card as mercurial as DeJuan Blair, who cannot even get off the bench in this series.

Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas, each on their last legs in the Alamo City, failed to assist Duncan much on either end. Gregg Popovich needed more from Matt Bonner than he was capable of delivering.

Since his arrival in the Alamo City at 19, pundits and fans have called Parker everything from putrid to the perfect point guard. He has been everything from a protagonist to Popovich’s personal piñata.

Tuesday night, he became OKC’s ultimate punisher. The idea that the Thunder can stop him is now pure fiction.

His head coach motioned to him furiously for what seemed like his thousandth reaming in the third quarter. He listened then nodded and returned to direct an offense that looks as untouchable as Elliott Ness.

“He’s been yelling at me for 11 years,” a grinning Parker said to TNT’s Craig Sager about his tumultuous relationship with Popovich.

The same sideline chief who wanted some “nasty” in the opener will demand less let-up as the match shifts to Oklahoma. The Spurs allowed a 22-point lead to dwindle to six and gave Popovich plenty to complain about in the process.

Yet, the Spurs still piled up 120 points, even after Scott Brooks opted to hack Tiago Splitter and Duncan. Both 6’11” behemoths bricked 9-of-22 free throws.

While the strategy succeeded in slowing San Antonio’s breathtaking precision offense for a quarter, it could not suffocate Parker’s certitude.

A month after making his controversial comments to a French newspaper, he claimed the journalists across the pond misconstrued them.

“I re-signed four years so if I didn’t believe we can win a championship, I would not have signed,” he said the previous June.

The word “sorry” can ring so hollow in sports. An empty verbal apology did not accompany his defiant statements.

Instead, he saved the response that mattered for Eurobasket and a Spurs campaign that continues to leave jaws dropped on the floor and opponents shaking heads in defeated admiration.

Whether he may have said something a year ago is now irrelevant.

Parker speaks best with the ball in his hands and a mission engrained and etched in his mind. When he caught a no-look pass from Ginobili and bagged a wide-open right corner three-pointer to put San Antonio up 20, the AT&T Center crowd roared in approval.

His peers also began to flood Twitter with awestruck dispatches.

A tweet from Minnesota Timberwolves passing wizard Ricky Rubio encapsulated a sentiment felt by most as the Spurs sliced up the Thunder for bucket after bucket. “Dictionary: Team; San Antonio Spurs …OMG!”

Mere months ago, with no Ginobili and a title pedigree that seemed as distant as that fourth cousin who never calls, the near-.500 Spurs had no margin for error. Parker’s confidence and ascendancy have given them plenty.

Stealing a game at Chesapeake Energy Arena will prove San Antonio’s toughest task yet, but who dares to doubt this scalding squad’s ability to triumph in that gym, no matter how much noise a sea of blue fanatics might make? Handing out T-Shirts will not subdue or flummox the Spurs.

Ginobili has rediscovered his groove. He followed up a 26-point performance in Game 1 with a 20-point effort, complete with a three-point grenade that exploded right in the Thunder’s rally path, just when it appeared the outcome might still be up for grabs.

Duncan did not look 36 when he posterized Serge Ibaka on a determined drive late in the second period, though he finished 2-for-11.

The bench contributed 38 points. Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard combined for 27.

Credit Parker as much as Popovich for all of the above.

The Thunder’s iso-first attack is potent enough to topple most challengers. James Harden’s 30 points would have been more impactful versus the offensively inept Dallas Mavericks or the feuding, discombobulated L.A. Lakers.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook boast the supreme talent necessary to blow by most defenders. Their time will and must come soon enough.

The Spurs, though, own the ultimate weapon in this series.

When OKC pulled to within six, courtesy of Harden foul shots, San Antonio was not shaken or stirred. Parker shut the door as he has so often in one of his finest seasons ever in any uniform.

What does he really think of the Spurs title chances now? Everything about his body language confirms his belief.

He spoke up Tuesday night, and no one will misquote the message his performance sent to the Thunder.

Better luck next year. Not this time.

His run, his team and his mission. Parker said plenty when the Spurs needed him to join the conversation most.


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