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Parker, Spurs set to face Grizzlies

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SAN ANTONIO (AP)

Danny Green failed to step up quickly enough on a pick, allowing Golden State's Stephen Curry to hit an open 3-pointer. The roar of the Oracle Arena crowd Thursday night was nothing compared to Tony Parker's tirade at Green over the defensive lapse.

It was a moment that must have made San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich proud.

''He's just really matured to the point he takes things personally if we're not playing well,'' Popovich said earlier this season.

Not since the days of the ''Little General,'' Avery Johnson, has San Antonio had such a vocal leader on the court.

San Antonio will need Parker's leadership when it hosts the rugged Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

The French star scored 10 of his 13 points in the final quarter Thursday night, helping San Antonio beat Golden State 94-82 to close out the Western Conference semifinals in six games.

''He was unbelievable down the stretch,'' Tim Duncan said. ''He's our finisher, that's what he does.''

Parker has come a long way from his rookie season as a 19-year-old point guard who openly defied Popovich's orders at times.

The ultimate sign of his development is the trust Popovich now places in him.

''I'll call something, and he'll call it off if he sees something different,'' Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News last season. ''I'll let him go with it. He's earned that.''

That trust was earned the hard way after the Spurs drafted Parker with the 28th pick in 2001. Google ''Popovich yelling at Parker'' and there are about 1,020,000 results.

His time in San Antonio got off to a rocky start, according to Yahoo! Sports' Johnny Ludden, who covered the Spurs for the Express-News during Parker's rookie season. Ludden recalled how Parker once shook off a play Popovich called, leading the notoriously fiery coach to scream for a time out and lambaste the French guard before he even reached the bench.

''You know I'm crazy!'' Popovich yelled, according to Ludden. ''Do that again, and I'll play Steve Kerr 95 minutes a night if I have to!''

Aside from the fact that NBA games are actually only 48 minutes during regulation, Popovich's message was clear. And Parker has followed suit, leading the Spurs to three NBA titles while guiding them to the playoffs in each of his 12 seasons.

Johnson was clearly the Spurs' leader when they won their first NBA title in 1999, and Parker has evolved to take over that role.

As age and injuries have limited the production of Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Parker has stepped up to become San Antonio's focal point offensively over the past few seasons.

For his career, Parker is averaging 17.1 points, 6.0 assists and 33 minutes.

''He's our generator offensively,'' Popovich said.

Make no mistake, Popovich still yells at Parker, but the curmudgeonly coach is also as quick to praise him.

''I'm really proud of him,'' Popovich said after Parker was selected to the All-NBA second team last season. ''That's a great accomplishment. He's my first-team All-NBA selection, personally.''

Popovich maintains that stance, saying Parker was the league's best point guard this season. While much was made about Curry's emergence as a stellar point guard during the playoffs, it was Parker who hit two key 3-pointers down the stretch Thursday to close out the series.

''He made two huge 3s when the game was getting tight and the fans were getting involved,'' Ginobili said. ''Those were huge. Tony is that type of player. In the last few years he became a player where he can just let things happen and pick things up when it counts.''

Now Parker's focus is earning the franchise's fifth NBA title and his fourth.

San Antonio was in a similar position last season, losing four straight to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals after winning the first two at home.

''We were disappointed last year being up 2 0, having home court, not being able to go to the finals,'' Parker said. ''It gives us a lot of fuel for this year.''

And it could lead to another fiery outburst for Parker.

Tagged: Spurs, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker

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