|In a virtuoso performance, Tony Parker personifies San Antonio's precision. (US Presswire)|
SAN ANTONIO -- The first time they did it, it seemed silly. It was a few nights ago, Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and the Spurs crowd serenaded Tony Parker with the "MVP" chant. Silliness, I was thinking. Tony Parker's good, even very good. On a good day, he's great. But MVP? Silly.
Then came Game 2.
It was the closing seconds, after the Spurs had dominated the Thunder from start to finish. Game 2 was a yo-yo, and Tony Parker was holding the string. Toward the end of the Spurs' 120-111 victory, when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took out Parker with 17.7 seconds left, I listened. I wanted to hear the serenade. I wanted to hear "MVP." On Tuesday night, it wouldn't have sounded silly. It would've sounded right.
But it didn't come. The crowd was too busy screaming in delirium, giving Parker their heart. This was a language that didn't come in the form of letters, not even those three. It came in the form of volume. Lots of it. And Parker had earned every decibel.
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Parker controlled this game as thoroughly as LeBron James controls a game for the Heat or Kobe Bryant controls a game for the Lakers. Parker scored 34 points and had eight assists with only two turnovers, but those are just the numbers. They don't describe the way he sliced in and out of the lane, carving up the Thunder defense, tearing it down, collapsing it. If this were a hockey game, Parker would have had another 10 or so assists, the kind the NHL gives to the player who made the pass that created the actual assist. That's what Parker did over and over, getting into the lane, kicking it to a teammate who would swing it another teammate, wide open, for the easy jumper.
According to the stat book, Parker had nothing to do with Danny Green's easy jumper midway through the second quarter, good for a 39-29 Spurs lead. In truth, Parker created that shot by working the pick-and-roll with Tiago Splitter, drawing five sets of eyes as he attacked the rim before dropping the ball to Splitter, who made an easy pass to Green for a simple jumper. It was beautiful basketball. Green got the points. Splitter got the assist.
Parker made it happen.
Over and over and over, Parker made it happen.
"They did a great job of breaking us down and scoring," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "That's what they do. They spread you out. ... They pass the ball well. Very rarely do they take an extra dribble. If a man is open, they pass."
Even passing as he did, Parker found time to take 21 shots and make 16 -- and while there were his usual assortment of drives into the lane, there were also more than a few contested jump shots. Brooks calls those shots "tough twos ... anything that's contested [and] outside the paint."
Parker made a lot of them.
"Parker was on fire," Brooks said.
He had to be. The Thunder had the kind of offensive outburst Brooks would draw up, if the media would first hand him a crayon and a piece of paper.
(Quick aside: Before the game, a reporter asked Brooks if he would consider fouling Splitter, who had gone only 4 for 16 from the line in his previous five games. Maybe he's a great actor, but Brooks seemed surprised by the idea. Sure enough, with the Thunder trailing by 17 late in the third quarter, Brooks had his team foul Splitter on five consecutive possessions. The Brazilian forward went 5 for 10 from the line during that stretch.)
(Another aside: Durant led the team in scoring even though he took seven fewer shots than Westbrook. Maybe a reporter should ask Brooks before Game 3 if he would consider finding a way to get Durant more shots than Westbrook.)
Sorry. Back to the Thunder. When Durant, Harden and Westbrook combine for 88 points, the Thunder are going to win most of the time. That's a lot of firepower, too much for most teams to overcome, especially in the playoffs when pressure is up and scoring is down. Durant is going to score his points because he's that good. Westbrook will score his because he'll shoot that much. But when Harden scores more than 20? The Thunder were 14-1 in those games this season.
Because Parker was creating havoc, creating shots for teammates, spreading the floor and doing all the hard work and making it easy for everyone else. Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard busted out with 18 points, his highest total in the playoffs -- his highest total in two months -- and he had Parker to thank for lots of that. Three of Parker's assists went to Leonard, including an early dunk that got Leonard going, then two driving dishes to Leonard for open 3-pointers. Those 3s came in a six-minute flurry of the third quarter when the Spurs scored 25 points to put the game out of reach, turning a 55-46 lead into an 80-58 romp.
Five of Parker's eight assists were on 3-pointers, by the way, and these weren't whip-it-around-the-perimeter assists. These were drives toward the rim, every eye on Parker, someone alone somewhere ... and Parker finding him. Every time. Leonard hit two of the 3s. Danny Green had one. Manu Ginobili had one. Stephen Jackson another.
Afterward, even the Thunder players were acknowledging how awesome Parker had been. Kidding! Thunder guard James Harden tried to undermine Parker's game, noting that "he got a couple of easy buckets late" but "Russell [Westbrook] and our guards did a great job of really containing him."
Whatever you say, James -- but now you're the one talking silliness.