Written off by many as too old to contend anymore, the San Antonio Spurs booked a place in the NBA finals by completing a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.
Tony Parker scored 37 points in his best game this postseason as San Antonio beat the Grizzlies 93-86 to complete a 4-0 win in the Western Conference series and reach the finals for the first time in six years.
"It's a great feeling," Parker said as he sat with the Western Conference trophy perched in front of him.
"Since last year, I promised Tim (Duncan) we would go back to the finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing. Everybody on the team, we really want to do it for him. We win the West and now one more step. It's the hardest one."
The Spurs now have won six straight in these playoffs, handing two straight losses to a team that had been undefeated on their own court in their best postseason in franchise history.
Parker hit 15 of 21 and all six at the free throw line earning the Spurs and Duncan plenty of rest before Game 1 of the Finals on June 6.
"He's been amazing," Duncan said of Parker. "Every year he gets better and better and better. He's been carrying us. You can see tonight he carried us the entire game."
Duncan hugged Manu Ginobili before heading off the court, celebrating the chance at a title that slipped away a year ago when the Spurs blew a 2-0 lead to Oklahoma City by losing four straight.
The 37-year-old Duncan finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Kawhi Leonard added 11.
"We want to get back there," Duncan said of making the finals. "We've had some really close years where we fell right on the verge of getting back. It feels like forever since we've been there."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said making the finals was a testament to the longevity of the team's core: Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
"You don't expect that to happen maybe this late in the game with the same group," Popovich said. "It's tough to maintain something that long. It just shows the character of those three guys and the ability to play with whoever else is brought in around them. They deserve a lot of credit for that."
The Spurs shot 51.3 percent (39 of 76) from the floor and outscored Memphis 52-32 in the paint, even though the Grizzlies had a 41-34 edge on the boards. Memphis led only briefly as the Spurs took control early.
Memphis stayed close only by getting to the free throw line, making more shots there (17 of 24) than San Antonio took (12 of 13). The Grizzlies also got a career-high 22 points from reserve Quincy Pondexter, 18 of those in the second half. Pondexter was the only player from Memphis to shoot over .500. Zach Randolph finished with 13, continuing his struggles at the line where he was 5 of 8, and Marc Gasol had 14.
"We learned that winning isn't easy and winning championships is one of the hardest things you can possibly do," Pondexter said. "Our guys really dug deep to get as far as we did, and San Antonio's a tremendous team. We're going to take a couple pages out of their book."
Duncan had taken care of the Grizzlies in overtime in each of the previous two games but it was Parker who took over this time.
He hit 14 of his first 18 shots, and the biggest with 9:15 left when he knocked down his lone 3-pointer to stifle a Memphis rally that had seen the hosts get within three points.
The Grizzlies made one last run and got within three one last time when Gasol scored on a runner in the lane with 48.7 seconds left. But Parker hit four free throws in the final 29.7 seconds to seal the victory.