EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tony Parker wasn't even born when the American Basketball Association, the league that gave birth to the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets, went under. And given that he is a native of France, he likely never heard that the old ABA was famous for its offense.
Thankfully for San Antonio, Parker was around to bail out the Spurs last night with the kind of point guard play that would have made James Silas proud. Parker scored 26 points and dished out six assists in a 84-79 win in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, giving San Antonio a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Parker, who scored 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, played with great poise, particularly for a 21-year-old player facing championship pressure.
"I tried to put not too much pressure on myself and not think about my matchup with [Nets point guard] Jason Kidd," Parker said. "It's the Spurs against the New Jersey Nets. I just try to run my team. Coach Pop [Gregg Popovich] wants me to be aggressive, and that's what I am trying to do."
Said Popovich: "Tony's a special young man. I mean, to be thrown into this kind of situation as young as he is, and to try to run the club, know all the players, some of whom or most of whom he's never played with, to handle that is special."
After staking the Spurs to an 11-point lead with 5:20 to go with the second of his two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, Parker missed three of four free throws in a 26-second stretch.
But with 1:04 to go, Tim Duncan grabbed the rebound on the third miss by Parker. The Spurs ran some time off the clock before Manu Ginobili hit a runner on the baseline with 43.1 seconds to make it 80-75 and essentially ice the game.
Duncan's key rebound was part of a 21-point, 16-rebound, seven-assist performance that more than made up for his Game 2 effort, when he missed seven of 10 free throws in the Spurs' 87-85 loss on Friday night in San Antonio.
"I've kind of changed my game just about every series throughout these playoffs," Duncan said. "In Phoenix, I was more like I was [last night], more of a passer. In L.A., I was more of a scorer. And in Dallas, I was a little bit of both. I'm just going to take whatever the defense gives me and just try to make my teammates better."
The two teams betrayed their wide-open ABA roots by slogging through an ugly game that displayed either defensive brilliance or offensive ineptitude, depending on your perspective.
The Spurs and Nets combined to produce the lowest-scoring first half in Finals history, and the Nets set a record for scoring futility for any second quarter of a Finals with nine points, while tying a mark for the lowest offensive output in any Finals quarter.
As it was, the Spurs shot just 42 percent from the field, but they held the Nets, who led through most of the first and third quarters, to a 37 percent output.
And Parker, who has had to listen to rumors all season that the Spurs would seek to sign Kidd when he becomes a free agent after this season, outplayed his counterpart, who followed a 30-point Game 2 with 12 points last night.
"I think I had some great looks, and unfortunately they just didn't go down," said Kidd, who shot 6-for-19 and had 11 assists. "I was trying to get my teammates going. Kerry [Kittles], get him the ball; get K [Kenyon Martin] the ball. I had some layups and wide-open looks that just didn't go down."
Parker said Popovich has said nothing to him about what's ahead. All that matters is the here and now -- to vanquish the Nets for the title.
"The NBA is a business," Parker said. "I can't let that affect me or my game. The only thing I can control is to try to make my team win. I can't control what the Spurs are going to do this summer or if they are going to take Jason Kidd or if I am going to play with him."
Said Popovich: "Like any position on our team, I don't play favorites. Whoever is playing the best at that time in the position, that's who is going to get the job. Stephen Jackson is starting at [shooting guard] right now because he did that. If Tony Parker is the guy that's playing the best next year, then he'll be the point guard."
The Spurs took home-court advantage away from the Nets and gained a potentially large hammer with the win. Since the NBA adopted a 2-3-2 format for the championship series in 1985, the Finals had been tied eight previous times after the first two games, with the team that won Game 3 going on to win the title each time.
Also, even if the Nets win the next two games here, the Spurs assured that they can go home with a chance to win the series by capturing the final two games at SBC Center.
"It's not a major setback right now," said Nets coach Byron Scott. "They did what we had done last game. They took back home-court advantage, so we have to make sure that this thing goes back to San Antonio."
New Jersey Nets vs. San Antonio Spurs
Best of seven; *-if necessary
Spurs lead 2-1
TV: Chs. 2, 7
Game 1: San Ant. 101, N.J. 89
Game 2: N.J. 87, San Ant. 85
Last night: San Ant. 84, N.J. 79
Wednesday: at N.J., 8:30 p.m.
Friday: at N.J., 8:30 p.m.
* Sunday: at San Ant., 8:30 p.m.
* June 18: at San Ant., 8:30 p.m.