By Mike Wise
Monday, June 11, 2007
SAN ANTONIO The Desperate Point Guard was holding the hand of Eva Longoria as he walked down a small corridor here Sunday night. Trailing behind was actor Terrence Howard, because, really, what's a celebrity fiancee without a celebrity friend to tag along?
Two games in, the Glam Man of these NBA Finals is Tony Parker. He, not LeBron James, has scored 57 points in two games and put on an end-to-end show in leading the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-0 series lead. A 6-foot-and-change Parisian has dribbled through nooks and crannies in Cleveland's once-vaunted defense and made the Cavaliers smell like Pepé Le Pew.
With at least two games still remaining in this mismatch of a series, a cadre of French reporters surrounded the man they traveled abroad to see, afterward asking Parker if they thought he would be named MVP of the Finals.
"Oh, that will never happen," he said in French, through a mock smile. "Don't you know -- it will always go to Tim Duncan." That was Parker's way of saying he didn't care, that it wasn't about him, that he was part of much-more encompassing mind-set.
If it seems like LeBron and himself against the world after 48 minutes, it is. Tim Duncan of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Manu Ginobili of Argentina and Parker of France unleashed all of their offensive arsenal on this poor, undermanned team from Cleveland on Sunday night, ruining any chance of a competitive NBA Finals. In less than two clinical quarters, the Spurs emphatically drove home the notion that one stateside supernova will flicker out against a constellation of stars born outside the continental 48.
When the yelping and hollering were done here in Game 2, so were the Cavaliers and what they were about this season: LeBron, team defense and little else.
Don't disregard the fight Cleveland showed at the end. With the Cavs scheduled to host the next three games of the series, the pride and purpose they showed meant something. But you had to be in this building to experience the humiliation and hurt San Antonio put on the Cavs in the first half to go up 2-0 in the series.
Parker took off on one of these length-of-court forays that may be the most defining moment of this series, a breathtaking jaunt in which he went behind his back, used the Cavs as traffic cones and then hit an improvisational reverse layup that had the AT&T Center enraptured for maybe two minutes of screaming and applause.
LeBron came back to put on a bit of a show, but without a dunk in Game 1 and with an air-ball free throw in Game 2 this clearly isn't a stage for children. As one completely cynical journalist quipped tonight, "Just call him Le Done."
Clevelanders will flood the e-mail inboxes of their team's detractors on Monday, talking up their 0-2 comeback against Detroit, how the Cavs have shown so much flair and fire at home. They might even point to San Antonio being blown out in Games 3 and 4 of the 2005 Finals in Detroit before rallying to win the series in Game 7.
But this isn't the East, these aren't the Pistons and this isn't 2005. And if it's any consolation, no one coming out of the East was going to take any more than two games off San Antonio. Much will be made of whether Coach Mike Brown should have sat LeBron for the rest of the first quarter after he picked up two early fouls, whether the Cavs coach pulled the right strings.
Yes, he should have brought LeBron back earlier. Because by the time James scored again in the second quarter, his team was already down 19 points. But how much difference would it have really made? Duncan, Ginobili and Parker scored 28 of San Antonio's 30 second-quarter points -- 12 of the most flawless and pretty minutes of the 2007 season.
The Spurs' Big Three took turns abusing their was a 25-point bulge by intermission, the third-largest halftime lead in Finals history.
More than some impressive statistic, it was a testament to professional basketball in San Antonio the past decade.
Parker embodied who the Spurs are on Sunday night. Drafted two spots ahead of Gilbert Arenas, the last player taken in the first round, he was one of these foreign players whom folks hoped might develop one day into an NBA starter. Now he's the last great point guard left standing, while Jason Kidd, Baron Davis and even Steve Nash are left to watch at home.
The next two or three games in Cleveland should be a celebration of all the good things that LeBron and his role players have brought to their championship-starved city. They won 17 games four years ago and now they're playing for the title.
But there is no way they can get past such a superior machine, no way to neutralize so many weapons and so many seasoned veterans with many more playoff games under their belts. Popovich is going to drill the idea of not giving Cleveland life in his players' heads, until they respond and put their foot on the Cavs and keep them down.
LeBron might have a couple of 30-plus games left in him at The Q, and his teammates might finally contribute in a way they didn't the past two games. Yet watching San Antonio move the basketball with precision Sunday, watching Cleveland put up a 30-point fourth quarter just to lose by 11, watching three great players outscore one, 78-25, well, it's over.
Much consternation was made over whether LeBron would be in the birthing room for the delivery of his second child, whose Sunday due date might conflict with Game 5. LeBron has said his priority would be the game. But at this rate, critics of the young father can stop their moralizing. Thanks to the Spurs, it says here Daddy will be there to help with LeBaby. And that Tony Parker and Eva Longoria will have a few more days to finish planning their special day in July.
Two games down, LeBron has been outplayed Le Blur.