Posted May 30 2012 10:03AM
SAN ANTONIO -- For his next trick Tony Parker will juggle chainsaws with bottles of nitroglycerine while driving a tractor-trailer through the eye of a needle.
How could he possibly make this look any easier except to maybe float on his back sipping an umbrella drink the next time he runs the pick and roll with Tim Duncan?
It was the middle of the second quarter when the AT&T Center crowd began the now-customary recount demand of the election that was decided several weeks ago: "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
Let LeBron James keep his shiny trophy and prestigious title. The way this is going, by late June Parker's going to inherit the late Kim Jong-il's former designation of Supreme Leader. That's Chef Supreme, if you must know, in French.
This playoff gantlet that Parker is running was supposed to get increasingly difficult with each step up the ladder from Utah's speedy Devin Harris to L.A.'s clever Chris Paul, and now to Oklahoma City's raw, physical, wonderfully gifted specimen Russell Westbrook. Yet here was Game 2 of the Western Conference finals matchup with a bruising, high-flying guy who could potentially tie his shoelaces into knots and Parker has made it look as easy as slipping into a pair of loafers, which is how the Spurs have reached an incandescent 20 wins in a row.
"For a 6-foot guard to shoot 16-for-21, I don't think it ever happened," said teammate Manu Ginobili. "And if it did, it's really hard to do."
Except that Parker has been doing things like this all season long for the Spurs. This time it was 34 points, eight assists and only two turnovers in 40 hard-driven minutes against a Thunder team that is long and lean and challenges every shot. Even more, it was his ability to make the shots or the passes and see the plays exactly as they should develop just when the Spurs needed another boost to the next level or a shot in the arm coming down the stretch.
He shot 5-for-7 in the first quarter, 3-for-4 in the second quarter, 4-for-5 in the third quarter and 4-for-5 in the fourth. When Oklahoma City bull-rushed from 22 points down to cut the San Antonio lead to six with 5:40 left to play, Parker closed out the game with six points, an offensive rebound and an assist at crunch time.
While Westbrook's game is, at times, mind-boggling and awesome, Parker's can be breathtaking in the way he's learning to make the game look so simple and to appear effortless. There are spin moves through the lane that can leave you dizzy, jumpers that can lift you off your feet and tear drops that make you almost want to weep with joy.
After all these years of wrestling for approval from his coach Gregg Popovich, it's as if Parker is dancing with the stars to music that only he can hear inside his head.
"It's been a battle my whole career when you're a scoring point guard and Pop wants you to score, then he wants you to pass, then he wants you to score, then he wants you to pass," Parker said with a grin. "You go back and forth. It's always been the biggest room for me to improve, to find the happy middle between scoring and passing, finding that good balance. I think over the years I got better at it, finding my spots, when to score and when to pass the ball."
Parker's shot chart was off the charts on Tuesday night. He hit 5 of 6 shots in the paint, where the long, hungry and sometimes angry arms of Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant are swatting at everything. He missed one 3-pointer and another trio of mid- to long-range jumpers and everything else found the bottom of the net.
"He hit four tough twos, which we call anything outside the paint," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "He made four of them in the first half. Those are shots you have to live with."
But it is far more than just all of those shots and all of those points that have lifted Parker's game to the elite level this season. It's the way he seems able to hold the reconfigured pick and roll offense of the Spurs in the palms of his hands and squeeze it into any shape that he wants.
Westbrook plays the point guard position for the Thunder like a bucking bronco that's been let of the chute at a rodeo. He's all kicking and snorting and clumps of dirt flying as he seems to use every sinew in his muscular body to power his way to the hoop. And while he's using up all of that effort and time on the shot clock, he's often freezing out his own teammates who can only hope that the latest circus shot or long range rocket finds its mark.
On the other hand, Parker slices up opponents with a razor's edge, the blood pooling on the floor before they even know they've been cut, because he's mixing them with feeds to Duncan, dishes to Ginobili, drop-offs to Boris Diaw, everything, anything that the Spurs need.
"When you have Coach Pop screaming at you every day, it will make you pass the ball," Parker said. "He is always on you to find a better shot...all season long, the extra pass. You know, we have great shooters on this team. We have guys who can penetrate and find open guys, so we like to play for each other. We like to play like that."
When the Thunder are getting 31 points from Durant, 30 from Harden and 27 from Westbrook, it is usually three soloists taking their turns in the spotlight. Even on a night when Parker is piling up 34, the Spurs are like listening to the philharmonic blend of all the right notes into a symphony.
The hard part is how he keeps making it look so easy.
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Anderson Varejao fights for the rebound and comes down awkwardly on his left leg and would sustain a leg injury.
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