SAN ANTONIO – Tony Parker, down the stretch of one of his signature games, directing a Spurs victory like a maestro, walked over to the bench during a timeout and was ready for the barrage.
Gregg Popovich ripped into his point guard. The Spurs coach didn't like a shot, or maybe it was a pass, you can't always tell.
Parker let the criticism roll off like it was a Thunder defender of him. Like most Frenchmen, he's a lover, not a fighter.
Soon enough, the Spurs had squelched a Thunder rally from the depths of a blowout. San Antonio beat the Thunder 120-111 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals, and Parker knew his coach was pleased. Even if Pop won't always show it.
“It's always been a battle my whole career,” Parker said of dribbling the fine line of scoring and quarterbacking. “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. Over the years, I got better at it.”
Rarely has Parker been better than Tuesday night: 34 points on 16-of-21 shooting, eight assists, only two turnovers. Parker hit medium jumpers and floaters in the lane and made the Spurs offense hum like a symphony.
This was the opposite of those Eastern Conference playoff games, where baskets are precious. With the Spurs, points came in flurries, with Parker delivering the ball through the hoop or into the hands of a teammate who could do the same.
And the ex-Mr. Eva Longoria is more than just a pretty face and an exquisite ballplayer. He can be on the tough side, too.
Even after the Thunder figured out that defense is not optional this deep in the playoffs, Parker delivered in crunch time.
A jumper over Kevin Durant's spider arms that gave the Spurs a 97-86 lead with 9:11 after the Thunder had finally reduced its deficit to single digits. A drive to the basket that led to a goaltending and restoration of a double-digit lead with 4:33 left. And finally, the back-breaker, a fallaway 15-footer to make it 107-96 with 3:39 to go.
“Parker was on fire,” said Scotty Brooks. “He made four tough twos, which we call anything that's contested outside the paint. So those are the shots that you have to live with.”
Brooks has his own salty point guard in Russell Westbrook, who is not the conductor that Parker is. Or the elder statesman. Westbrook – who had a monster game himself, with 27 points, eight assists and no turnovers – can play out of control and did at times Tuesday night.
But so did Parker when he was a young Spur.
“When you have Coach Pop screaming at you every day, it will make you pass the ball,” Parker said. “He is always big on you have to find a better shot.”
Sometimes, the Spurs' better shot is when Parker launches. Parker has become the Spurs' best player, surpassing franchise icon Tim Duncan. Parker makes the Spurs go, and if the Thunder plan in this series is to turn Parker into an indecisive, befuddled point guard, good luck.
Much more likely, the Thunder will have to outscore the Spurs, who after a shaky start in Game 1 have now averaged 32 points a quarter the last five periods.
“Just one of those nights,” Parker said. “The first game … I was a little too much in a hurry. So this game, I took my time and waited for my moment, especially on the pick-and-rolls when they doubled me.”
It's looking like the Thunder is going to have to show some patience, too, to make the NBA Finals. Winning this series now is a tall task – four of five against a team that has won 20 straight, and has a point guard playing so well, even his coach has to figure out what to yell about.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.