Neal before the King? Fight for Finals MVP

Battle: LeBron tussling with Tim Duncan

Battle: LeBron tussling with Tim Duncan

Prior to the 2013 NBA Finals, many were predicting a second consecutive Championship for Miami with LeBron James again claiming MVP honours. However, the series has not gone accordingly so far with San Antonio opening up a 2-1 advantage with the next two games on their home floor and ‘King James’ is being outshone.

Ultimately, you would imagine that the Finals MVP award will go to a player on the Championship winning side (Jerry West 1969 being the only exception) and were Miami able to turn the series around, LeBron seems to be the only viable contender from the Heat given the little support he has received so far.

There are several contenders for the Spurs with the creator in Parker, the shooter in Green, the defensive stalwart in Leonard and the solid veteran in Duncan, who does everything for Gregg Popovich. He might not be making a lot of shots but his defensive presence is huge for San Antonio especially when Thiago Splitter is not on the floor. Continue reading

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Will it be an unwelcome déjà vu for San Antonio?

Spurs 2-0 Grizzlies tbc..

Spurs 2-0 Grizzlies tbc.. Pic: NBA.com

San Antonio took care of home court in contrasting fashion to take a 2-0 series lead over Memphis and will now look to avoid repeating their collapse of 12 months ago.

The 2012 Western Conference Final started with the Spurs taking a 2-0 lead against Oklahoma before suffering defeat in the next four games and crashing out of the Playoffs.

Tony Parker eluded to their ‘nightmare’ before the series insisting that making the most of their home court advantage was vital and that last year’s defeat has been a motivation since training camp.

The Grizzlies are certainly capable of forcing San Antonio to re-live their collapse having already reeled off four straight victories in BOTH rounds so far, beating the Clippers 4-2 before a 4-1 win over last year’s Western victors OKC.

However, things haven’t quite clicked for Memphis just yet and their opponents have taken full advantage. Their head-coach, Lionel Hollins can at least take heart from the way his side battled back in Game 2 to force overtime but will be looking for All-Star Zach Randolph to have more of an impact on the series.

The opening game saw the Spurs get HOT from downtown in a dominant franchise record breaking performance (see tweet below) while the second was the ‘Tony Parker Show’ before holding their nerve in OT to go two up in the series. And this time it was the turn of Conley to pay tribute to TP9:

“Tony’s great, one of the best in the league! The draw and kick was effective and when you have a player creating a lot of plays it just puts pressure on the defence,” the Memphis guard added after going 0-2 down.

A 23-8 start to the series laid the foundation for an impressive beginning for Gregg Popovich‘s side as their lead grew to as many as 28 POINTS. San Antonio only needed six points from Tim Duncan in the 105-83 rout while the Grizzlies needed a lot more than the two points provided by Randolph.

His fortunes changed in Game 2, and in turn they changed for Memphis. However, not drastically as Randolph started the game going 1-10 before improving to 6-18 from the field for 15 points along with 18 rebounds while his front-court partner (and DPOY) Marc Gasol added 12p/14r.

San Antonio were out-rebounded 60-46 and gave up an 18 point lead which resulted in an extra period but they had all five starters in double-figures while Parker dished out a career-Playoff high 18 assists. The hosts enjoyed more minutes from Tiago Splitter and 14 more points this time around following the Brazilian‘s scoreless effort in the series opener.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are proving deadly 3-point shooters for the Spurs which makes them an effective team from outside considering the strengths of Manu Ginobili and Matt Bonner coming off the bench. Memphis on the other hand, are not prolific shooters from beyond the arc and would much rather work the ball inside to either one of Z-Bo or Gasol and happily play out an old fashioned three point play.

The series is far from over and Memphis will be encouraged by their battling display to force OT in Game 2 while San Antonio will look to steal a game on the road to cast aside any lingering comparisons to their 2012 WC Finals.

Both sides will now get a few days extra rest as Miami and Indiana play their opening two games of the series and Duncan believes this period will benefit the Spurs.

Speaking about the break, the 3x NBA Finals MVP added: “It’s huge! Coming off the last game and now this physical series, we will be refreshed going into hostile territory. It will be a tough game in Memphis but we will use this time to be re-energised.”

Game 3 in Memphis takes place on Saturday @ 9pm Eastern Time which will equate to the early hours of Sunday morning in the UK.

Tony Parker pays respect to ‘underrated’ opposite number

Point duel: TP9 v Conley

Point duel: TP9 v Conley

Tony Parker claims San Antonio need to be wary of Mike Conley if they are to overcome the challenge of Memphis ahead of Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

Speaking after practice, Parker said: “(Conley) is a very underrated player and for me is in the top 10 for best point guards in the league!”

“He makes it happen for them, he’s a great shooter, has great penetration and you have to respect him.”

The Memphis point guard led his side to a 4-2 series victory over the number 1 seeded Oklahoma in the conference semi-finals, averaging 18.0 ppg; 6.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists.

Conley has been with the Grizzlies since 2007 and recorded his best points total/average in the regular season whilst making 100+ 3-pointers in a season for the first time having started in all 80 of his appearances. His next challenge comes in the form of one of the most experienced guards in the league.

Parker was the finals MVP in 2007 which was the last time San Antonio won the NBA Championship and the French international is also wary of the inside threat of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

“Obviously, we have to stop Gasol and Randolph but Mike Conley is a huge part of what they do. We need a lot of help on defence to stop them inside and we need to make sure we control the ball to limit turnovers,” the 31 year-old added.

The season head-to-head was tied at 2-2 with Parker scoring 30 points on two occasions while two games went to overtime as both teams were victorious at home. The Spurs were defeated 4-2 by the Grizzlies two years ago and also blew home court advantage in the conference finals against OKC last year, something they will want to avoid.

“It’s been a motivation for us since training camp and we have home court advantage again against a good team so we need to make the most of the opportunity,” said Parker.

Memphis have never reached the NBA Finals having only been in the league since 1995 while San Antonio have won all 4 of their NBA Championships since 1999. Parker v Conley will definitely be a key match-up as will the inside battle between the duo of Z-Bo & Gasol up against Tim Duncan and the help defence. Coach Gregg Popovich will also be hoping for further impact from Manu Ginobili off the bench.

 

In the Spotlight: Tony Parker

TP9 is expected to miss the next four weeks.

TP9 is expected to miss the next four weeks.

The French international’s MVP charge has taken a hit after suffering an ankle injury.

Tony Parker is extremely important to San Antonio and it will be interesting to see how they cope with out the 5-time NBA All-Star over the next four weeks.

The 30 year-old is now in his 12th season with the Spurs but is showing no signs of declining after following up being awarded the January Player of the Month with a string of impressive performances in February . Parker averaged 26.1 points per game during the month to boost his season average to 21ppg, his best since the 2008-09 season where he finished with 22.0.

Parker doesn’t just score but he can pick a pass as well as well as anybody in the league such is the consummate ease of controlling the ball. This is evident statistically with 10+ assists in a game on FIFTEEN occasions this season to average 7.6 dimes a game (6th best in the league). The 6’2″ guard is also the all-time leader in assists for the Spurs with over 5, 000 to his name and Parker demonstrated his awareness to set up Kawhi Leonard’s game-winner against Cleveland last month.

Parker has not come close to his 55 point haul against Minnesota in 2008 but has passed 30+ points on TEN occasions so far this season. A 2012-13 best of 33 came against Indiana in November while arguably his best performance came a month later when he posted 27 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists for a memorable triple-double on the road in Houston.

In his first season- back in 2001/02Parker made a bright start to his NBA career and ended the campaign averaging 9.2 ppg having been a regular starter. He became a consistent scorer and his average has stayed above 14 ever since. One blemish on the C.V of Parker was his 3-PT and free throw shooting which Coach Gregg Popovich highlighted. Improvements were made which makes Parker one of the greats as his number of attempts from long range reduced dramatically and his current FT % of 82.9 is a career-high.

San Antonio haven’t reached the NBA Finals since their last Championship victory in 2007 when Parker outshone LeBron James to claim the Finals MVP in a 4-0 cruise. The Frenchman has three NBA rings and will be desperate to add to that tally. The Spurs have the best record (46-14) in the NBA to date and will hope to maintain that in the absence of Parker over the next month before he returns from a Grade-2 left ankle sprain to lead their play-offs venture.

You can follow Tony Parker on Twitter: (@tonyparker)