By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
PORTLAND, Ore. — Presumably when it’s over, Tony Parker will have the Trail Blazers over for dinner. With fava beans and a nice Chianti.
This is no longer Parker simply moving all of the Xs and Os around the blackboard as if he’s giving a lecture at a coaching clinic. It’s his own canvas where the imagination and ideas fill up the blank spaces like oils.
We have certainly seen him play at a high level before. He’s won three championships, become a perennial All-Star and was the MVP of the 2007 Finals.
Now, at 31, there is something else.
It’s knowing when to pour like water through a crack in concrete and get all the way to the basket. When to pull up and take that mid-range jumper that the Portland defense continues to give him. When it’s a bounce pass that will find a cutting Tim Duncan in stride. When what looks like an over-the-shoulder prayer will find a wide-open Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobili at the 3-point line.
“Tony has been the engine for us,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after another throttling of the Blazers, this time 118-103 on Saturday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinals series.
The kind that takes the checkered flag at Daytona or Indy or LeMans.
The Spurs are a completely different kind of team running a completely different kind of offense from the days when the 19-year-old from France came into the league and was supposed to not screw things up for Duncan and David Robinson.
Now San Antonio has more ball movement than a pool table in an ocean storm and that means more responsibility for the point guard who gets to make it all run.
Before the Blazers knew what hit them in Game 3, Parker had run off four straight jumpers and virtually everyone sitting inside the Moda Center could tell that their team was going to get run off the court again.
“He got us out of the gates,” Duncan said. “He continues to shoot the ball really well. He’s getting to his spots. He’s making great decisions for our offense of our team. When his shot is there, he’s knocking it out.
“He’s doing a great job of coming off the screens and getting to his spot and knocking them out. He’s reading the defense real well. They start closing up on him and he’s doing a great job of getting to the basket as well. He’s matured and doing a much better job of doing exactly what the defense wants to give him.”
Everybody gets older, the Spurs quite evidently with a 38-year-old Duncan and 36-year-old Ginobili having their movements and usage handled as carefully as antique crystal.
Parker, of course, is older, too. But even after 13 years in the league, he’s the one with the twinkle in his eye and the spark that lights the fire in the Spurs’ entire offensive game.
“It’s what he does,” said shooting guard Danny Green. “He reads the situations. He makes the right decisions and he gets us all playing the way we want to play.”
When it comes to reining in Parker, Blazers coach Terry Stotts couldn’t grasp at more straws if he were dropped in a hayloft. Should he switch defenders? Does it matter?
What figured to be a competitive series lasted that way only until the opening tip of Game 1. With Parker lighting the match, the Spurs have had halftime leads of 19, 26 and 20.
Stotts keeps talking about how evenly the Blazers are playing the Spurs in the second half of games, which is like the guy whose parachute didn’t open saying at least he stuck the landing.
The fact is Parker has played this way now for the past two or three seasons, yet rarely gets mentioned in the MVP race, left in the exhaust fumes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. This year he finished tied for 12th in the voting. He never seems to be the hot new name, the slick new model and yet he’s that engine still running strong and late into June.
“He’s just been unbelievable for us and obviously been the driving force of this entire series,” Duncan said. “So we’ll continue to ride him and hopefully he can close this thing out.”
Then pick out the Chianti to wash down the Blazers.