SAN ANTONIO 84, NEW JERSEY 79 -----------------------------
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Tony Parker? Magnifique. Manu Ginobili? Sensacional. And you don't need a translator to figure out the San Antonio Spurs have regained control of the NBA Finals.
Parker scored 26 points and led a second-half comeback and Ginobili made two huge plays down the stretch to spark the Spurs to an 84-79 victory over the New Jersey Nets in a potential series-turning Game Three.
The Spurs did it with defense early and offense late as they turned the tables on the Nets, who lost at home in the playoffs for the first time since April 22. But it was less Tim Duncan and more of the funkin' by the foreign duo of Parker and Ginobili.
A second-year point guard from France, Parker is outplaying Nets superstar Jason Kidd, who has been rumored to be headed to the Spurs in free agency this summer.
Parker scored 19 points in the second half and has become the key to success for San Antonio as it inches toward its second title.
The Spurs improved to 26-2 this season when Parker scores at least 20 points. They are 6-1 in the playoffs when Parker reaches the magic number, and he has done it twice this series against Kidd, one of the top defensive guards in the league.
"I try not to put too much pressure on myself," said the 21-year-old Parker, who made 9-of-21 shots and added six assists. "I think about my matchup against Jason Kidd, the main thing is, it's the Spurs against the New Jersey Nets and just try to run my team and be aggressive."
"Tony's a special young man," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I'm really impressed at what he can do at this young age. He's been really great and he was good for us tonight."
Ginobili, a rookie guard from Argentina, continues to break the mold of what foreign players are supposed to be. Bringing energy to both ends of the floor, he fronted a highly effective zone in the second quarter and did all his scoring in the second half, totaling eight points.
And when Parker's joie de vivre appeared to run out, Ginobili was there to rescue him - twice. After Parker missed a free throw to leave the Spurs clinging to a 78-75 lead with 90 seconds remaining, Ginobili stripped Lucious Harris.
"I just saw the pick-and-roll and tried to jump it," Ginobili said.
That led to two more free throws by Parker, who promptly missed both. But Duncan sneaked inside of Kenyon Martin for an offensive rebound.
"I just went hard to the middle," Duncan said. "Kenyon tried to block me out and I just kind of ducked behind him."
"Just slipped out right from me," Martin admitted. "I thought I had a body on him."
The Spurs reset their offense, and Parker penetrated and found Ginobili, whose runner along the right baseline banged in for an 80-75 bulge with 43 seconds to go.
"There's not much time to hesitate," Ginobili said. "I think the shot clock was winding down. I knew that Kenyon was coming, so I just tried to get it high."
"He's a very good player," Parker said. "All season long, he's made some big shots. In Europe, he played some big games, won the Euro League and some MVPs, so the NBA Finals is the same thing for him - a lot of pressure, a lot of attention, all of the media - so I don't think it's going to affect him."
The energetic but sometimes erratic play of Parker and Ginobili is affecting Popovich.
"It's fun for them and it's a life-shortening experience for me," Popovich said of his youngsters. "I think I have about a week left."
How do you say "We've reclaimed the home-court advantage" in French?
The Spurs got back what they gave away in Game Two and have this working for them: Since the Finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, the eight teams that have won Game Three to snap a 1-1 tie have gone on to win the title.
"We are right where we want to be," Duncan said. "We have the opportunity to go into Game Four, get another one and really put them on their backs. So the pressure is on them."
Games Four and Five are here Wednesday and Friday.
Duncan had 21 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks. Although somewhat quiet with just 13 shots, as the Nets used more double-teams, he again confounded them with his patient, intelligent play.
"The guy is an amazing player, because it doesn't matter what gets taken away from him," Popovich said. "He finds another way to be involved, whether it's getting rebounds, assists, blocked shots - he's really an all-around player."
Martin again battled Duncan as best he could with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Kerry Kittles added 21 points and Kidd had 12 and 11 assists.
Kidd made just 6-of-19 shots, setting the tone for the worst first half in NBA Finals history. The Nets set a record with nine points in the second quarter and tied another with 30 in the first half.
Despite creating a stench that matched the one coming from the nearby refineries of North Jersey, the Nets regrouped and - led by Kittles - actually opened a 51-45 lead.
But when it appeared they were ready to pull away at the end of the third quarter, Ginobili converted a three-point play before Parker reeled them in with a pair of 3-pointers 48 seconds apart, cutting the deficit to 55-54.
"We had to loosen up offensively to get some guys to knock down shots, and obviously that began with Tony," Popovich said.
Parker stayed hot in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points in a 19-4 burst that opened the period and gave San Antonio its largest lead at 73-62 with 5:20 to go. He had two free throws and a 3-pointer to give the Spurs the lead for good, then capped the surge by putting back his own miss and drilling another 3-pointer.
"With his speed and when he gets rolling a little bit, he can shoot the ball a little bit," Duncan said. "His confidence rises."
"He had a great game," Scott said. "He made some big shots for them."
The Nets fought back, and when Parker fired an airball and Aaron Williams dunked off a feed from Kidd, it was 77-75 with 1:43 left. But as Parker faded, Ginobili emerged, and the Spurs held on.
Nets reserve center Dikembe Mutombo wasn't nearly the factor he was in Game Two, but San Antonio's zone defense was enacting "Operation Shutdown," making New Jersey's offense look as if it were stuck in the surrounding swamplands.
"We have to find a way to be aggressive in the zone," Kidd said. "I thought we were passive and taking the jump shot instead of trying to explore and trying to get into the seams."
For all of their defense, the Spurs weren't much better as they nursed a 33-30 halftime lead, marking the lowest-scoring first half in NBA Finals history. The teams combined for 26 baskets and 22 turnovers.
"It was like a European game," Parker said. "Everyone was struggling. It was all defense."
Before the game, Popovich said there wasn't much he could do about his team's problem with turnovers. Then he watched his players stumble and fumble their way to six baskets and seven giveaways, creating a 21-15 hole.
Martin scored 10 points in the first quarter, but when he sat down with Kidd early in the second, the offense went with them. By the time they returned, the Spurs had the lead, and their zone had the Nets firing impatient, off-the-mark jumpers.
"We have a zone offense," Martin said. "We're just not making shots like we do on a consistent basis. ... We just have to be aggressive vs. the zone, penetrating the ball, different things like that."
San Antonio's sloppiness returned in the third quarter, when it had six baskets and six giveaways.