SAN ANTONIO – Tony Parker has found balance in his role as a scoring point guard.
Two more wins, and the San Antonio Spurs will find themselves playing for another NBA championship.
Parker had 34 points and eight assists, Manu Ginobili added 20 points and the Spurs stayed perfect in the playoffs with a 120-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night.
The Spurs set an NBA record with their 20th consecutive victory bridging the regular season and the playoffs. They came in sharing the longest such streak with the 2000-01 Lakers, who won 19 in a row before losing to Philadelphia in the first game of the finals.
Those Lakers went on to win the championship, and Parker’s performance is yet another reason to think the Spurs will do the same.
Guided by their All-Star point guard, San Antonio shredded Oklahoma City’s defense with pinpoint passes for three quarters. The Spurs were shooting 63 percent from the field and 64 percent from 3-point range at one point in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 22 points in the second half.
Parker was 16-for-21 shooting from the field, including a 3-pointer.
“Tony’s been great all year,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s been really focused the entire season.”
Parker had his highest scoring average since 2008-09 (18.3 points), but he also averaged 7.7 assists in the regular season, a career high. In his 11th season, Parker feels comfortable knowing when his demanding coach wants him to pass and when to shoot.
“It’s always been a battle my whole career,” Parker said, “when you’re a scoring point guard and ‘Pop’ wants you to score, then he wants you to pass, and he wants you to score, and he wants you to pass. You go back and forth.
“It’s always been the biggest room for me to improve, to find a happy middle between scoring and passing, and find that good balance. I think, over the years, I got better at it.”
The Thunder made a late surge to cut the deficit to six points, but Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan helped San Antonio finish off the Thunder for a 2-0 lead heading into Game 3 Thursday night in Oklahoma City.
“First, we’ve got to worry about Game 3,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. “Regardless of what’s going on with this last game or the next game, we’ve got to worry about Game 3 and come in with the same mindset and try to get a win.”
Kevin Durant had 31 points, Westbrook had 27 points and eight assists and James Harden rebounded from a rough Game 1 to score 30 for the Thunder, which has lost consecutive games for the first time since early April.
“There are no moral victories for us,” Durant said. “We were down. We dug ourselves a hole. We did what we normally do, which is fight all game, and we lost.”
San Antonio picked up where it left off from the 39-point fourth quarter that turned Game 1. With sharp passes and hot shooting, the Spurs jumped to a 19-9 lead after the Thunder missed six of its first seven shots and had three turnovers in the first four minutes.
The Spurs shot 52 percent (12-for-23) in the opening quarter and led, 28-22. Durant was on the bench at the start of the second quarter, and Parker and the Spurs put together a 14-4 spurt to stretch the gap to 13 points.
Westbrook hammered Parker’s arm on a drive and he crumpled to the court. That didn’t faze Parker, who scored the Spurs’ next seven points to keep San Antonio rolling.
The Spurs shot 58 percent (22-for-38) and had 13 assists in the first half. They also cut down their turnovers, committing six in the first half after giving away 14 in the first two quarters of Game 1.
“You never go out and say, ‘We’re going to start out fast,’” Popovich said. “You don’t know what is going to happen. You just want your team to be aggressive. Good teams are aggressive, and … it’s a matter of making shots or not making shots.”
The Spurs resumed picking apart Oklahoma City’s defense with precision passes after the break, scoring on five consecutive possessions. The biggest cheer from the crowd came after Ginobili flipped a behind-the-back pass to Parker in the corner for a 3-pointer and the lead ballooned to 78-58.
The Thunder had the deficit down to six with just over five minutes remaining. The Spurs missed 12 out of 15 shots during one stretch, but Parker hit an off-balance, high-arcing jumper with 3:39 left for a 107-96 lead and San Antonio controlled the game from there.
Only 14 teams in NBA playoff history have overcome 2-0 deficits to win series.