What was Tony Parker up to after his San Antonio Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies and waited for Miami to advance to the NBA Finals?
“Reorganisation de la cave a vins!!!” Parker posted on Facebook last Friday, along with the translation, “Reorganizing the wine cellar!!!”
Ah, you have got to love a point guard whose collection of wines rivals his collection of moves.
The Frenchman brings a distinct savoir-faire to the basketball court. Just as the Spurs’ success in the Finals will hinge to a large extent on their ability to limit the damage by LeBron James, the Heat’s chances of repeating as champion will hinge on its ability to contain Parker.
One thing guaranteed as the Finals get underway Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena: Parker is a joy to watch. On the occasions when James and Parker are pitted opposite each other, you will see the league MVP matching speed and wits against a player who was in the MVP running until he missed three weeks in March with a sprained ankle.
Parker has been brilliant in the playoffs, averaging 23 points on 47.5 percent shooting with 7.2 assists and 2.7 turnovers. Parker raised his game against Memphis, the league’s second-best defense, dishing 18 assists in Game 2 and scoring 37 points in closing out the series.
“Hate it or love it. Parker is the third best player in the entire NBA. Period. Behind only LBJ [James] and KD [Kevin Durant],” Jalen Rose tweeted after that performance.
Parker’s Player Efficiency Rating is 24.1 in the postseason, his highest since 2009, when the Spurs lost to Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, and he’s posting the highest assist average of his career. At 31, he has won three championships and says he’s determined to win another for 37-year-old Tim Duncan.
Like James, Parker is expected to record sizable numbers, make big plays and not flinch in crunch time. But the Heat can’t just make him a given on its checklist. Coach Erik Spoelstra will have to devise ways to push Parker’s frustration meter and spread the burden for those defending him.
Parker borrows bits from the greatest improvisers — Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Bob Cousy, Jason Kidd — but he’s not big (6-1, 185) and not conventionally flashy. You will see more backdoor layups than acrobatic dunks from him.
Parker was born in Bruges, Belgium, and raised in France. His father, Tony Parker Sr., is an American who played pro basketball overseas. His mother is a Dutch model. He and his brothers chose basketball over soccer.
The Spurs invited Parker to a pre-2001-draft workout, during which coach Gregg Popovich was dismissive of Parker’s lack of toughness when defended. Popovich reluctantly asked Parker back for a second tryout and was impressed enough to draft him with the 28th pick.
Parker was fast then, and he’s even faster now. He consistently beat the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley and Tony Allen on the dribble, which means Miami’s Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole will need to have their spikes on. He will force James and Dwyane Wade into lots of chases.
Parker is most dangerous when threading through a thicket of screens. The Spurs are a precision team that has this down to a science. Should Heat defenders go over or under those screens? And when Heat players shift and swipe, rotate and help, shooters Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Matt Bonner will be ready to catch and shoot.
Parker is a master of misdirection. He cuts the corner and penetrates the lane as well as anyone. His quickness and agility make him underrated on defense, where he will frequently match up against Chalmers’ pugnaciousness and Cole’s speed.
Parker, former husband of TV star Eva Longoria, is a musician, too. He put out a French hip-hop album entitled TP.
Give him the ball and voila. No playoff opponent has been able to slow him down. It’s up to the Heat to end Parker’s run.