For Spurs, a Familiar Ring

Tony Parker
Tony Parker, once a finals liability for the Spurs, comes through big for San Antonio as he is named MVP of the series. (Hans Deryk - Reuters)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

CLEVELAND, June 14 -- After the final horn sounded on the San Antonio Spurs' 83-82 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, Tim Duncan smiled and walked toward center court, hands raised high.

Duncan, though, stood alone as his teammates gleefully sprinted from their bench to celebrate the franchise's fourth NBA championship in nine seasons. Instead, they mobbed Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the two players who lifted the Spurs to a four-game sweep of the Cavaliers on a night when Duncan failed to deliver one of his classic closeout performances.

Ginobili had a game-high 27 points and Parker added 24 as the team most of nation considers boring cemented its place as the league's best team the past decade. "We know that we probably have been the best team the last 10, eight years, and it feels pretty good because it shows the hard work we've done, the way we played and other stuff, so it feels great," said Ginobili, who scored 13 points in the final six minutes, including four free throws to secure the victory.

The Spurs are now a perfect 4 for 4 in the NBA Finals, the best record at this stage aside from the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, who went 6-0 in the 1990s. The Spurs had never recorded a sweep in any of their previous championship series. They needed five games to beat the New York Knicks in 1999, six games to beat the New Jersey Nets in 2003 and seven games to eliminate the Detroit Pistons in 2005. This was the eighth sweep in NBA Finals history.

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said Duncan was "the common denominator" throughout this run. Duncan won his first ring with an established superstar in David Robinson, but after he spurned Orlando to sign a contract extension in 2000, the Spurs took a chance on an unheralded point guard from France and an unknown shooting guard from Argentina. Parker and Ginobili have teamed up to help Duncan win three more rings; the last two after Robinson retired in 2003.

This time, Duncan jumped on Parker's and Ginobili's scrawny shoulders and rode them to the title. Duncan had an NBA Finals career-low 12 points (on 4-of-15 shooting) and had 15 rebounds. "I thought those other guys were great," Duncan said. "I was sub-par."

Cavaliers superstar LeBron James celebrated the birth of his second child, Bryce Maximus James, earlier in the day, but he played as if he was in quicksand. He scored a team-high 24 points, but missed 20 of 30 shots from the field.

James refused to watch the Spurs celebrate on his home floor -- "I didn't want to look at it," James said. Before he left the court, Spurs forward Tim Duncan embraced him and told him that the league would be his one day. James lowered his head and stared blankly toward the floor. "We just faced a better team," James said. "I need to definitely get better, and once I get better, our team will automatically get better."

James's expected coming out party was upstaged by Parker, who became the first European player to win most valuable player of the NBA Finals, in the same season the first European player won league MVP (Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki). It was the first time someone other than Duncan was Finals MVP for the Spurs.

"He's come a long way, and it's been very satisfying to have been able to watch that progress in him," Popovich said about Parker, who averaged 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting through the four games.

This series was the ultimate redemption for Parker. When the Spurs beat the New Jersey Nets for the NBA title in 2003, the team brass was somewhat shaky about Parker, whose play was so erratic that Speedy Claxton was often sent in to finish games. They pursued Jason Kidd in the offseason while Parker was home in France, a courtship that infuriated and inspired him. Four years later, Parker is a two-time all-star, pitching Subway sandwiches on television while preparing to marry television star Eva Longoria next month. Longoria wept as she videotaped him receiving the MVP trophy. "I'm not complaining. I will definitely remember 2007," Parker said, with the French flag draped over his shoulders. "I don't know what I did. It's a great year."

In February, few expected the Spurs to get past the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference, but when the Golden State Warriors upset Dallas in the first round, and the Spurs finished Phoenix in six, San Antonio found no other obstacles to the championship

The Cavaliers -- a team built in the mold of the Spurs, with James as the centerpiece as opposed to Duncan -- won the two regular season meetings between the teams. But in the NBA Finals, Cleveland was completely overmatched as the Spurs had a decided edge in talent, experience and every other intangible. "Obviously, it's great thrill to win a championship," said Popovich, the stubborn yet self-effacing patriarch of this Spurs dynasty who became fifth coach in NBA history with at least four championship rings, joining John Kundla, Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. "Each championship has a personality of its own. We had to go through a different process this season. We weren't very good in the beginning of the year, kind of lost our focus defensively, kind of got it back."

Box score, E5

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