for this game

Parker speeds by Cavaliers as Spurs win Finals opener

Jun 8, 2007 - 5:09 AM SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Forget LeBron James. Never mind Tim Duncan. In Game One of the NBA Finals, the best player on the floor was Tony Parker.

Speeding through the defense as if it weren't there, Parker collected 27 points and seven assists Thursday night as the San Antonio Spurs systematically took apart the Cleveland Cavaliers, 85-76.

Don't tell James the defense wasn't there. In his Finals debut, the 22-year-old superstar swingman was shackled by Bruce Bowen and a host of help defenders as he was held to 14 points, the second-lowest postseason total of his career and a very bad sign for the Cavaliers.

"It was definitely crowded," James said. "They did a good job of shrinking the floor. If I went by one guy, another guy stepped up, something I'm going to have to make an adjustment for."

"He struggled mightily tonight," said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, whose team will try again in Game Two on Sunday.

Among other things, this series was supposed to be a referendum on the best player in the NBA - James, the new school entry, vs. Duncan, the leader of the old guard who is stalking his fourth title.

Duncan held up his end with 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. But the three-time Finals MVP was upstaged by Parker, who looked even sleeker than fiancee Eva Longoria in her canary yellow mini-dress.

Taking advantage of his matchup with the hobbled Larry Hughes and just about any other defender the Cavaliers tried, Parker got inside the defense at will for easy layups or setups for teammates. He made 12-of-23 shots, with most of his misses coming when he inexplicably settled for jumpers.

"I just tried to go faster than them, tried to think ahead and what they're going to do, make quick decisions," Parker said. "Even if I have to pass it early or I'm going to go all the way, just the timing when I penetrate I try to think ahead."

"When he wanted to get to the rim, he did most of the night," Brown said. "He had us on our heels."

Parker's penetration also took the Cavaliers out of position and helped the Spurs hold a 43-32 advantage on the boards against the NBA's top rebounding team. San Antonio had 13 offensive boards and 19 second-chance points.

"No matter how anybody plays him in the pick-and-roll, his ability to penetrate or get the ball to the other side of the court gets us going," Parker said.

"On the offensive glass, they really hurt us," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said.

As he did in the conference finals clincher, James did not have a basket in the first half as he was limited to virtually no operating room and four free throws. He missed his first eight shots and finished 4-of-16 from the field.

"Some of it was me missing a lot of the shots I usually make and some of it was the defense they put on me and our team in general," James said. "It's like a half-and-half thing."

James also had six turnovers, including one early in the second quarter where he tried to throw a crosscourt pass from the right corner that hit the rim and bounded back over his head and into the expensive seats, drawing jeers from the crowd at the AT&T Center, many of them clad in white T-shirts.

"Six turnovers was uncharacteristic of me in the postseason," James said. "I tried to force a lot of passes in there that looked open at times and really wasn't."

"He didn't have a 48-point game and I'm happy for that," Bowen said, referring to James' herculean effort in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals.

At the 7:15 mark of the third period, James finally swooped in for a layup. But shortly thereafter, the Spurs began to pull away as the Cavs began to show their inexperience.

Another driving layup by Parker made it 58-47, and Drew Gooden would not allow Manu Ginobili to do the same, grabbing him at the neck for a flagrant foul. A 3-pointer by postseason mainstay Robert Horry opened the fourth quarter and gave the Spurs a 67-49 lead.

James made consecutive 3-pointers in the final period, but the Cavaliers got no closer than eight points down the stretch.

Ginobili scored 16 points for the Spurs, who were playing for the first time in eight days but were fairly sharp, shooting 45 percent (34-of-75).

"It felt like we played a month ago," Duncan said. "It was good to get some of the rust off."

Daniel Gibson scored 16 points, Gooden added 14 and Sasha Pavlovic 13 for the Cavs, who were playing the first Finals game in franchise history. They fell to 0-13 all-time in playoff openers on the road.

Before the game, no less an authority than Commissioner David Stern tried to downplay the perception that the Cavs are a one-man band, saying, "Not even the greatest of the great get here alone."

James wasn't alone, but he could have used some more help. Hughes, who clearly is hampered by a partially torn plantar fascia tendon in his left foot, was assigned to defend Parker, perhaps the quickest player in the league.

"Tony gets to the rim all the time, and there's no knocking anyone, the Cavs or anyone else," Duncan said. "With his quickness, with his ability to finish in the lane, he gets in there almost at will."

Seven days off appeared to have no effect on the Spurs, who started quickly by making seven of their first eight shots. Parker wasted no time testing Hughes, blowing right past him for a pair of layups and adding another transition bucket as San Antonio bolted to a 16-10 lead.

Shadowed by Bowen and encountering double-teams everywhere, James settled for jumpers and missed his first four shots.

"(Bowen) takes great pride in guarding the other team's best player," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He doesn't always stop him. Our team defense is what we count on, but team defense begins with individuals taking responsibility, and I think Bruce does that very well."

The Cavs shot just 33 percent in the first quarter and trailed, 20-15. But whatever was bothering them was contagious as the Spurs endured a stretch where they missed 13-of-15 shots and gave away the lead with James on the bench.

The Spurs called a timeout, and Parker snapped them right out of it. The French flash scooted along the baseline for a layup and a foul, missing the free throw but grabbing his own rebound and tossing in a teardrop.

He threaded a pretty bounce pass to a streaking Francisco Elson for a dunk and three-point play, then found Duncan with a shovel pass for a dunk and a 31-25 lead.

"He plays his best basketball when he's aggressive," Popovich said. "I think at that point he started to do that more than he did the previous part of the contest."

"(Popovich) told me to be aggressive," Parker said. "He told me shoot 25 times if you have to, because if I'm not aggressive, we can't do anything."

With Parker running wild, Duncan his usual dominant self (14 points, four blocks) and James 0-of-7, the Cavaliers had to feel fortunate to trail just 40-35 at halftime.

Unfortunately, Cleveland encountered another case of the third-quarter blahs that have plagued it this postseason, managing six buckets and four turnovers.


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