The Spurs are returning to the Finals for the first time in six years
They had stood in that losing locker room in Oklahoma City a year ago, andTony Parker made Tim Duncan a promise that would carry these San Antonio Spurs all the way to Monday night. I'll get you back to the NBA Finals, Parker vowed. We aren't done. You aren't done.
It was late Monday, and Parker's eyes looked like they might well with tears as he recalled that moment. He had a 2013 Western Conference champions hat atop his head, having made good on his promise to send Duncan and the Spurs back to the Finals with a stirring 37-point performance in a 93-86 victory that completed a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Duncan "remembered [the promise] and reminds me every time we passed a playoff round," Parker told Yahoo! Sports. "He said, 'We're going to ride you to the end.'
"Timmy means a lot to me. I learned so much from him. From the first day I arrived in San Antonio he's always had my back. He's a very good friend, very close to me on the court and off the court.
"Our first championship we were riding him. He was our franchise. I feel very blessed because now it's my turn to try to bring this team to the end. If I can do that for him, it would be … unbelievable."
The Spurs are returning to the Finals for the first time in six years. They've won the championship in each of their four previous visits (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007), the last three with Parker as their starting point guard. Parker won his first title at 21 and his last at 25 when he was named the Finals MVP after the Spurs swept theCleveland Cavaliers.
"In 2007, we won our third one in five years, and you think it's going to keep coming," Parker said. "And I'm 25, and six years go by and every year it gets tougher."
The Spurs were stuck in a six-year Finals drought that included last year's difficult loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West finals. The Spurs led that series 2-0 before losing the next four games. Afterward, Parker told Duncan that he would get him back to the Finals before the end of his career. At 37 years old, Duncan will now get a shot at winning his fifth championship.
"He's amazing and he's evolved so much over the past couple of years," Duncan said of Parker. "To get back to this point with him at the helm, I'm just going to do everything I can to get these four games in and try to win four more for both of us. Obviously, he's carrying the load and he said he was going to get me back here. It's a lot of fun to be back here."
[Slideshow: Spurs sweep Grizzlies to reach NBA Finals]
The Spurs find this Finals trip especially sweet, given that they have long been considered too old to challenge for another title. The season began with all eyes on the Los Angeles Lakers after they acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to help Kobe Bryant in his championship chase. Kevin Durant and the Thunder were the defending West champions, and the Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers were also expected to pass the Spurs among the conference's elite. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich even said that if he'd been a fan looking at the Spurs, he also probably would have thought their run was over.
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