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Parker and Ginobili add international flair
SAN ANTONIO -- In the land of the Alamo and the 10-gallon hat, the Western Conference finals are being decided in large part by a French point guard and an Argentine reserve.
Merci, Tony Parker, for bringing some love for France from folks in President Bush's home state.
Ole, Manu Ginobili, for showing not all from Argentina is as devalued as those pesos tucked in your wallet.
The San Antonio Spurs are on the verge of defeating the Dallas Mavericks and advancing to the NBA Finals, while also making converts of any remaining stateside die-hards who believe international players are a notch below their American counterparts.
Anybody who saw Ginobili's baseline reverse dunk in Game 4 should be a believer by now. Anyone who has witnessed Parker's extreme speed and improved jump shot must agree.
"I'm not trying to prove something to nobody," Parker said, skewering his English but getting a point across.
Parker went on TNT's live postgame show after Game 3 and was told he had been named to People magazine's list of the world's 50 Most Beautiful. He made Charles Barkley laugh by replying he now feels obligated to shave every day, which is very un-French.
This is a point guard who turned 21 last week -- a couple days before he scored 19 of his 29 points in a quarter to help the Spurs win Game 3. Parker scored 25 in Game 4, and he and Ginobili helped the Spurs to a 102-95 victory and a 3-1 lead in the series. Game 5 is tonight.
"Ginobili got away from us tonight," Mavs coach Don Nelson said. "They have so many people, it's hard to curtail all of them."
How the Spurs got Parker and Ginobili is a good story in itself.
Late first-round pick
Parker was the 28th and final first-round pick in 2001, going long after Cleveland selected DeSagana Diop eighth, the Hornets took Kirk Haston 18th and the 76ers chose Samuel Dalembert 26th.
Ginobili's draft number was ridiculously lower -- the 57th pick in 1999.
The barely legal point guard and the rangy 6-foot-6 shooting guard have made all the difference for the Spurs in a transitional season that has evolved as less of a goodbye to David Robinson than an unexpectedly warm welcome for two players whose skill level is a bit astonishing given their ages.
"Manu is incredibly athletic and agile for his size. He can knife to the basket, and that's a rare gift for someone his size," Dallas guard Steve Nash said.
Ginobili, 25, is also a deft distributor and shooter with legitimate NBA 3-point range.
During the preseason, veteran Spurs guard Steve Kerr asked for a scouting report on Ginobili, whose play during the World Championships helped Argentina to a second-place finish. Ginobili sat out almost all of the gold medal game because of a badly sprained ankle from a collision with Germany's Dirk Nowitzki.
Kerr, skeptical after seeing Ginobili hobble through his first practices, was told Ginobili is a slasher who might not have NBA 3-point range.
"Yeah, I haven't seen that yet," Kerr said.
He has now.
Ginobili was 3-for-5 on 3-pointers and had 17 points at halftime Sunday to keep the Spurs close against the desperate, Nowitzki-less Mavericks.
The range, the slashing and the passing are only part of the package. There's flair, too. Ginobili's reverse dunk in the second quarter brought astonished appreciative gasps from the Dallas crowd.
If Kobe Bryant's marvelous baseline reverse in Game 5 of the first round against Minnesota was to be judged a 10, this was an 8.5 or a 9 -- with an extra half-point added for being a rookie.
Ginobili also had a rebound putback to beat the third-quarter buzzer, putting the Spurs up 77-70 entering the fourth quarter.
"Every game Tony, Manu and (Stephen Jackson) get in the playoffs really helps because they don't have that much experience," said San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, who will coach against Ginobili this summer as an assistant to Larry Brown when the United States attempts to qualify for the 2004 Olympics.
Ginobili will play for Argentina, which defeated the U.S. team in Indianapolis last summer to become the first nation to defeat an American team comprised of NBA players.
Could Argentina do it again -- even with Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson on an upgraded U.S. roster?
"You never know," Ginobili said.
But that debate is for later, when several of the Mavs and Spurs will represent someone else.
Parker will play for France as it tries to qualify for Athens, facing Nowitzki's team from Germany, a Spanish team led by Pau Gasol and a Turkish squad that includes Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur.
U.S. center-by-default Tim Duncan of the Spurs will play in the qualifier in Puerto Rico, as will Steve Nash of Canada.
Ginobili and Argentina teammate Pepe Sanchez of the Detroit Pistons say they have a couple of young forwards who will make everyone forget they ever heard of Hugo Sconochini. (For those who haven't heard, Sconochini was the victim of an uncalled foul at the buzzer that cost Argentina the gold medal last summer vs. Yugoslavia).
That talk, though, is all about last summer, this summer and next summer, with the NBA Finals coming first. One more win, and Ginobili and Parker will be there representing the San Antonio Spurs.