Things didn't start off well. Tony Parker coughed the ball up on the San Antonio Spurs' first offensive possession. Tayshaun Prince converted on a
jumper to put Memphis up two points shortly after.
A few minutes later, with 9:13 remaining in the first period, Parker missed his first look -- a wide-open mid-range shot created by two consecutive baseline screens from Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan.
Then, things changed.
Parker, who averaged 24.5 points and 9.5 assists per game while shooting 53.2 percent from the field in his fifth Western Conference Finals, buckled in and took over.
First, he found Kawhi Leonard in the corner for an easy pull-up jumper. On the next possession, in semi-transition, Parker caught Danny Green's pass in stride before laying the ball in on the right side of the backboard, away from the defender's reach. A few moments later, Marc Gasol retreated to the paint a bit too much on a Parker-Duncan pick-and-pop, leaving an easy touch pass to Duncan for the 18-footer.
Parker scored without the ball too. He received two elbow screens from Splitter and Duncan before darting into the paint. Gasol offered momentary help for Allen, but Parker already had a few steps on him and scored easily.
Duncan fed Parker for another easy layup -- he made each of his six shots in the restricted area in Game 4, per NBA.com. And, to cap off a solid first quarter, he drilled another jumper.
But he was just getting started. Parker decimated the Grizzlies second-ranked defense, again, finding little nooks, crannies and crevices to wedge his 6-foot-2 frame in and wreak havoc. He got to the free throw line twice, barreled to the rim a few more times, ran around several screens before firing uncontested mid-range shots to sap Memphis of any and all hope, fed Duncan for a shot and also dished to Green for his only 3-pointer of the game. Before Joseph replaced him, Parker contributed 19 points in the third quarter alone.
I'll spare you the semantics, but Parker was excellent in the fourth quarter, too. He scored 11 in the period -- scoring 37 total, his fourth-highest mark in his playoff career -- including a pivotal 3-pointer that extended the lead to six points. The Grizzlies were rallying and Parker's only 3-pointer put a damper in their comeback. Memphis never truly recovered.
Even when Gasol chipped in a floater to cut the lead to three points with 48.7 seconds remaining, Parker drew a shooting foul on the ensuing possession. He swished both. Splitter snuffed out Jerryd Bayless' layup and Parker marched to the line again.
He made both free throws. The Spurs led by seven. Mike Conley, outplayed by Parker all series, clanked one final desperation 3-pointer.
Now, it was over.
San Antonio clinched a Finals berth, their first since 2007. But they wouldn't have done so without their diminutive floor general, whose been leading one last charge to a championship.
A title would obviously add to Duncan's illustrious legacy. And Gregg Popovich, too, whose slowly climbing the all-time coaching ladder.
It also means a lot for Parker, the often forgotten and unappreciated third child. For him and his doubters, if they still exist. (To this day, some people still maintain that Parker's greatness is tied to Popovich's offensive system. Extricate him from his comfortable abode, they say, and he won't be effective. This, of course, is nonsense.)
After years of cultivating his game, transforming into both a facilitator and playmaker simultaneously, Parker can safely put those disheartening tropes to rest. It's about time.