TNT analyst Charles Barkley has seldom been shy about voicing his opinion, but even for Sir Charles this had to be a first: calling out an NBA player for squiring around a housewife.
Of course the housewife in question was Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, the girlfriend of Spurs point guard Tony Parker and the subject of Barkley's ire in the wake of Denver's 93-87 win at San Antonio in the opening game of the best-of-seven Western Conference first round. When the cameras caught Parker cavorting with Longoria upon walking into the SBC Center before Game 1, Barkley chastised him for what he perceived as a lack of focus. "I thought it was very weird the way Tony Parker came in," Barkley told a national audience. "He was very casual, hugging on his girlfriend a little bit."
Parker's problems, however, weren't all about Eva. What really threw him off was the play of Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, who treated Parker about as kindly as Longoria's manipulative character treats her husband. Miller finished with a playoff-career-high 31 points, outscoring Parker 24-8 in the first half alone. (Parker finished 6 for 17 with 12 points, and no points or assists in the fourth quarter.) It was a miserable game for San Antonio, which began the night with a league-best 38-3 record at home and ended it looking very vulnerable against a No. 7 seed. Forward Tim Duncan--playing at less than full strength, having missed 12 games late in the season with a sprained right ankle--hit on just 7 of 22 shots. As a team the Spurs missed 17 consecutive shots before reserve forward Robert Horry hit a three-pointer with nine seconds left. "I was much like everyone else," Parker said afterward. "I never got into a good rhythm."
Longoria's presence only added to the desperation come Game 2. The prospect of traveling to the Pepsi Center down 0-2 was daunting, especially with Denver's 19-1 home record under new coach George Karl. "It is a must-win game," Duncan said. "We need to get the next one, play better and play smarter." Which they did. The Spurs roared to a 63-32 halftime lead behind Parker (12 points in the first 24 minutes) and Duncan (18 points in the half), but the key move came before the game, when coach Gregg Popovich put Brent Barry in the starting lineup in place of Manu Ginobili with the aim of jump-starting the bench. Barry had eight points in the first quarter and 16 for the game, and Ginobili had 12 of his 17 points in the second period.
The Spurs won a sloppy Game 3 thanks mainly to Ginobili, who, still coming off the bench, scored 32 points to bail out a team that shot an ugly 31 of 81 from the field (38.3%). San Antonio also got a big effort from Horry, who added another chapter to his playoffs highlight reel by nailing back-to-back threes in a 10-0 fourth-quarter run. He was part of a Spurs bench that outscored Denver's reserves 53-14. "The game turned around when Horry hit those two threes back-to-back," said Denver's Carmelo Anthony. "We weren't expecting that."
To their credit the Nuggets played Game 4 like a team that knew its playoff life was on the line. But Duncan, now feeling like his old self, proved too much in a thrilling 126-115 overtime win. He finished with 39 points and 14 rebounds and tortured Denver, which chose to single-cover him in the paint. Duncan hit 13 of 23 shots and 13 of 14 free throws. Most impressive, he gutted out 40 minutes--the most action he'd seen in almost two months--before fouling out in overtime. That's when Parker took over. He scored 7 of his 11 overtime points after Duncan fouled out with 2:55 left and finished with 29 points.
The final game proved to be a war of attrition, as neither team played particularly well offensively. The Spurs' reserves provided the difference, just as they had throughout the series. Ginobili scored 18 points (he averaged a team-best 22.8 points over the last four games of the series), Horry added 17, and veteran forward Glenn Robinson, signed in April from the scrap heap, finished with seven. Parker led the team with 21 points.
As thoughts turned to Seattle and the next round, the San Antonio players reflected on the impact of the Game 1 shocker. Desperation, it seems, occasionally pays dividends. "Sometimes it takes a smack in the face to open your eyes," said Horry. "It's opened our eyes and made us realize you have to respect all of your opponents. We have to take it four or five steps above normal."