Tony Parker has found balance in his role as a scoring point guard. Two more wins, and the San Antonio Spurs will find themselves playing for another NBA championship.
Parker had 34 points and eight assists, Manu Ginobili added 20 points and the Spurs stayed perfect in the playoffs with a 120-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night.
The Spurs set an NBA record with their 20th consecutive victory bridging the regular season and the playoffs. They came in sharing the longest such streak with the 2000-01 Lakers, who won 19 straight before losing to Philadelphia in the first game of the finals.
Those Lakers went on to win the championship and Parker’s performance is yet another reason to think the Spurs will do the same.
Guided by their All-Star point guard, San Antonio shredded Oklahoma City’s defense with pinpoint passes for three quarters. The Spurs were shooting 63 percent from the field and 64 percent from 3-point range at one point in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 22 points in the second half.
Parker went 16 for 21 from the field, including a 3-pointer.
”Tony’s been great all year,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ”He’s been really focused the entire season.”
Parker had his highest scoring average since 2008-09 (18.3 points), but he also averaged 7.7 assists in the regular season, a career high. In his 11th season, Parker finally feels comfortable knowing when his demanding coach wants him to pass and when to shoot.
”It’s always been a battle my whole career,” Parker said, ”when you’re a scoring point guard and Pop wants you to score, then he wants you to pass, and he wants you to score, and he wants you to pass. You go back and forth.
”It’s always been the biggest room for me to improve, to find a happy middle between scoring and passing, and find that good balance,” Parker said. ”I think, over the years, I got better at it.”
The Thunder made a late surge to get within six points, but Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan helped San Antonio finish off the Thunder for a 2-0 lead heading into Game 3 Thursday night in Oklahoma City.
”First, we’ve got to worry about Game 3,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. ”Regardless of what’s going on with this last game or the next game, we’ve got to worry about Game 3 and come in with the same mindset and try to get a win.”
Kevin Durant had 31 points, Westbrook had 27 points and eight assists and James Harden rebounded from a rough Game 1 to score 30 for the Thunder, who have lost two straight for the first time since early April. Oklahoma City dropped to 15-4 in games after losses this season.
”There are no moral victories for us,” Durant said. ”We were down. We dug ourselves a hole. We did what we normally do, which is fight all game, and we lost.”
San Antonio picked up where it left off from the 39-point fourth quarter that turned Game 1 on Sunday. With sharp passes and hot shooting, the Spurs jumped to a 19-9 lead after the Thunder missed six of their first seven shots and had three turnovers in the first 4 minutes.
The Spurs shot 52 percent (12 for 23) in the opening quarter and led 28-22. Durant was on the bench at the start of the second quarter, and Parker and the Spurs put together a 14-4 spurt to stretch the gap to 13 points.
Westbrook hammered Parker’s arm on a drive and he crumpled to the court. That didn’t faze Parker, who scored the Spurs’ next seven points to keep San Antonio rolling.
The Spurs shot 58 percent (22 of 38) and had 13 assists in the first half. They also cut down their turnovers, committing only six in the first half after giving away 14 in the first two quarters of Game 1.
”You never go out and say, `We’re going to start out fast,”’ Popovich said. ”You don’t know what is going to happen. You just want your team to be aggressive. Good teams are aggressive and it is, it’s a matter of making shots or not making shots.”
The Spurs resumed picking apart Oklahoma City’s defense with precision passes after the break, scoring on five straight possessions. The biggest cheer from the crowd came after Ginobili flipped a behind-the-back pass to Parker in the corner for another 3 and the lead ballooned to 78-58.
Late in the third quarter, the Thunder began intentionally fouling Tiago Splitter, a 32 percent free-throw shooter during the playoffs.
That backfired, too. Splitter went 5 for 10 over a 54-second span before Popovich replaced him with Duncan, and Oklahoma City trailed by the same margin – 16 – that it did when Brooks called for the ”Hack-a-Splitter” strategy.
It may not have showed on the scoreboard, but the Spurs seemed to lose their edge after that.
”There’s a reason why you do it, to kill the rhythm,” Parker said. ”I think it got us out of our rhythm.”
Parker returned with 10:58 left and San Antonio leading 92-78, but he was shaky on offense for the first time. Gary Neal promptly curled around a screen and swished a 3-pointer, the Spurs’ 10th of the game.
Parker, Ginobili and Duncan were on the court together at the 8-minute mark, after the Thunder cut the deficit to eight. Ginobili’s floater in the lane was only the Spurs’ third field goal of the fourth quarter and put San Antonio up 99-89.
The Thunder had the deficit down to six with just over 5 minutes remaining. The Spurs missed 12 of 15 shots during one stretch, but Parker hit an off-balance, high-arcing jumper with 3:39 left for a 107-96 lead and San Antonio controlled the game from there.
At least now, the Thunder get to return home, where they are 5-0 in the playoffs. But only 14 teams in NBA playoff history have overcome 2-0 deficits to win series, and the Spurs show no signs of letting the Thunder back in it.
Notes: The Spurs’ winning streak is the longest in the NBA overall since the Houston Rockets won 22 straight between Jan. 29-March 18, 2008, all in the regular season. … The Thunder are the first team to reach 100 points against San Antonio in the postseason. … Kawhi Leonard scored 18 points, including three 3-pointers for the Spurs. … Duncan blocked four shots to tie Hakeem Olajuwon for second in career blocks in the postseason (472). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the leader (476). … Oklahoma City’s Derek Fisher went 2 for 11 from the field after scoring 13 points in Game 1.