By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Apr 21 2009 6:06AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Tony Parker couldn't help but hear all the talk the last two days.
The Spurs lost the homecourt edge because the All-Star and former Finals MVP met his match in a former undrafted free agent that most San Antonio fans couldn't pick out of a lineup. Parker gave J.J. Barea his due after Game 1, and then reminded everyone during Game 2 of the hierarchy here.
Parker refused to let up Monday night, rolling up 38 points as the Spurs destroyed the Mavericks 105-84 to knot the Western Conference first-round series. The best-of-7 takes two days off before resuming Thursday night in Dallas.
San Antonio couldn't afford to take the short plane ride north behind two games. Parker wasted no time putting his stamp on the evening by unleashing his full array of driving layups and medium-range jumpers. He had the Mavericks guessing defensively and, more often than not, they were wrong.
"Game 1 was a tough loss for us," Parker said. "Game 2 I was trying to be very aggressive and attack the basket, and make sure we react and play with a lot of energy. From the get-go I was very aggressive."
The display lit up the capacity crowd at the AT&T Center, who may have been more anxious than the Spurs themselves. Parker barely broke a sweat nailing nine of his first 10 shots for 19 points before the game was 10 minutes old. He seemed more than capable of carrying San Antonio to the win it needed to get.
"Tony is the head of the snake," Mavericks sixth man Jason Terry said, "and we need to make someone else beat us to have a chance."
Though the Spurs got the all-the-board contributions that were missing in the opener, it was Parker that kept the heat on Dallas for the three quarters he was needed. He scripted a complete game by halftime with 27 points, and continued to deliver daggers as San Antonio pulled away in the second half.
Parker checked out to a standing ovation midway through the fourth quarter, three points shy of his career postseason high. The mere 24 points of Game 1 were just a faded memory.
"He was aggressive both going to the hole and shooting the jump shot," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "and that always makes us a better team."
Barea, the Spurs' surprise Game 1 nemesis, was never a factor with five points. The backup point guard who drilled a hole in San Antonio's interior defense Saturday with his pudgy quickness, never found room to operate. The Spurs decided to sic Bruce Bowen on Barea, whose forays to the basket often ended with wild shots or equally out-of-control passes.
"Last game we let Barea have too much space and he hurt us," Spurs guard Roger Mason Jr. said. "I think tonight we focused in on it."
The Spurs had the extra surge of energy that Duncan predicted Monday morning when he called the game a "must-win." Open looks were nowhere to be found for Dallas. The focal points of San Antonio's defensive scheme -- Dirk Nowitzki and Terry -- found themselves forcing the action just to get off shots and they made only nine of 29.
"We did a better job of contesting shots," Tim Duncan said after grabbing 11 boards and blocking three shots. Dallas was held to just 40-percent shooting after connecting on 54 percent two nights earlier.
The rest of the Mavericks didn't fare much better. Josh Howard fell from 25 points to seven, appearing to float in a daze after taking a hard fall less than a minute into the game. Dallas big bodies Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass didn't find the sledding inside quite as welcoming.
"San Antonio really brought up their level of aggression," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
"We didn't panic," Parker said. "We went and watched film, saw what we did bad in Game 1 and made some adjustments. Game 2 was much better for us, so hopefully we can carry that to Game 3."
The knock on the post-Manu Ginobili Spurs is their tendency to stand and watch Parker, and settle for 3-point shots. While that may seem like a sound strategy considering San Antonio's collection of long-range bombers, shots 24 feet from the basket tend to be a little harder to hit in the Playoffs.
Among the several adjustments for San Antonio, there was a concerted effort to get to the basket for players not named Parker. Matt Bonner and Mason helped keep the defense off balance by mixing in a few well-timed drives when the Mavs closed out hard at the arc.
"You can expose that with the drive," Bonner after following up a scoreless Game 1 with 11 points.
Whether the Mavericks feel exposed after getting run out of the building, they will return home comforted by the road split. Protecting the American Airlines Center court the next two games -- Dallas won 32 of its last 37 at home -- would leave the Mavericks one win shy of the West semifinals.
"The series is tied 1-1, and that's as positive as we could have expected coming into San Antonio," said Terry, the subject of several run-ins with Spurs during the game. "If you lose by one or 30, it's still one game. Now it's time for us to dust off and get after it."
Parker and the Spurs were feeling the same not so long ago.
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