MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Maybe it really was just lost in translation two years ago when those forever aging San Antonio Spurs were kicked to the curb in the first round, a top-seed toppled by the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, and Tony Parker reportedly told the French press that his team’s window had slammed shut.
After all, the Spurs had gone through a three-year ringer: a first-round dud to the Mavericks in 2009, a second-round sweep by the Suns in 2010 and then the embarrassment of the Beale Steet beatdown in 2011. Parker would later say that the foreign press must have had a slow news day, that he had made no mention of any closed windows. He was, he said, excited about the team’s future.
Fast forward and certainly nothing was lost in translation when Parker told longtime teammate Tim Duncan after last season’s West finals unraveling against Oklahoma City that he would return the resurgent greybeard, who used to carry this franchise the way Parker does now, to the NBA Finals for a shot at a fifth championship.
“I promised to him that we will go back, go back to The Finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing,” Parker said late Monday night, emotion clearly swelling within. “I’m trying to do my best, trying to be aggressive every night, and I think everybody on the team, we really wanted to do it for him.”
The amazing Parker, masterful at driving the paint, has turned in a phenomenal postseason and a dominant performance in the stunning sweep of the Grizzlies completed Monday night. Parker obliterated counterpart Mike Conley and the Memphis defense for 37 points on a remarkable 15-for-21 shooting, and six assists. In the four games, the league’s most dangerous point guard — arguable if you wish — averaged an unstoppable 24.5 ppg and 9.5 apg.
Perhaps Chris Paul will still get the nod over Parker as the game’s best point guard, but Paul is fishing or surfing or whatever you do in Southern California when basketball ends. Paul still seeks his first West finals appearance.
Meanwhile, Parker is headed for a shot at a fourth title as part of the Big Three with Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Their first came a decade ago when Parker was a 21-year-old kid in his second season stateside.
During Game 2 in San Antonio, cameras caught Memphis coach Lionel Hollins having a brief in-game moment talking to Parker: “I love the way you penetrate. Mike is learning from you.”
Conley certainly got schooled for four straight games.
“He was outstanding the whole series and he controlled the series with his penetration,” Hollins said of Parker. “He made shots, made plays. One game he has 18 assists, [Monday] he has 37 points. He was huge.”
He has the Spurs back in The Finals for the first time since 2007, the last of three titles in five seasons. Back then, Parker was named Finals MVP in a sweep of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Parker and Co. could well see James again — a different James leading a Miami Heat juggernaut that happens to be the reigning champs.
“This [winning The Finals] is the hardest one and we don’t know who we’re going to play yet,” Parker said. “But, we know it’s going to be tough.”
Even the Heat and their tremendous perimeter defense will have difficult task slowing down what might be the NBA’s most unselfish, precise and efficient offense.
San Antonio’s versatility is practically impossible to limit. The Grizzlies took away the 3-point shot in Games 3 and 4 and the Spurs killed them with backdoor layups. If basketball kept hockey assists, San Antonio would own the category. It starts with the incredibly quick, full-service point guard.
“He can look at a defense and he makes pretty good decisions now on scoring or distributing based on what he sees, where maybe in the past he was a little bit more one-dimensional, like, ‘I’m going to score or I’m going to distribute,’ ” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “And when you do that you can get a little stubborn. But I think these days he’s much more mature in the sense that he actually reads what’s on the court and so he’s a better basketball player than he was an earlier.”
Parker turned 31 earlier this month and is only getting better. His postseason is so far off the charts: 23.0 ppg and 7.2 apg. He’s shooting 47.5 percent and 37.5 percent from 3-point range, well above his career average.
Between Games 3 and 4, Popovich recalled the first time he saw Parker play during a Nike Hoops Summit in 2000. Parker’s French team was playing against America’s top high school talent that included future Grizzlies big man Zach Randolph.
“I asked, ‘Who is this guy?’ because he scored 20-something points on all the Americans, just sliced them and diced them and nobody knew who he was and nobody cared who he was,” Popovich said. “But he was pretty impressive so [general manager] R.C. [Buford] and I took a closer look.”
No translation was needed.