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Magnifique! Playing with poise and eclat, French point guard Tony Parker had the Spurs primed for the Finals

San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker walked slowly toward the
players' tunnel at American Airlines Center on Sunday night,
stopping every so often to sign autographs or engage in casual
conversations. "Hey, Namesake!" shouted Dallas Mavericks
assistant coach Charlie Parker, pumping Tony's hand. They chatted
for a few minutes and the coach left smiling. "He's quite a young
man, isn't he?" the elder Parker said. This isn't a particularly
good time for Franco-American relations but--mon Dieu!--how we
like this young Frenchman.

What's not to like? Schoolboy-style backpack strapped to his
slender shoulders, sly smile creasing his face, the 21-year-old
Parker looked every bit the undergrad on his way to the quad to
check out the coeds. But with the exception of his MVP teammate
Tim Duncan, no player in this entertaining Western Conference
final has played with more veteran sangfroid than the second-year
Spur. Parker scored 29 points--second only to Duncan's 34--in a
96-83 Game 3 victory last Friday at Dallas, and then led San
Antonio with 25 points in Sunday's 102-95 win, which gave the
Spurs a 3-1 series lead.

"Gimme three," said San Antonio assistant P.J. Carlesimo,
extending three fingers to Parker as the guard left the locker
room after Sunday's game. Such is the elevated standard being set
by Parker right now that Carlesimo didn't think he quite deserved
five, perhaps because he missed 13 of his 22 shots, including
four of five three-pointers. But then, Jason Kidd is sometimes a
horrid shooter yet is still recognized as the NBA's premier

There--that satisfies the unwritten rule that a Kidd reference
must appear in every story about Parker, who for the last few
months has been asked almost daily if he is motivated by the
possibility that the Spurs will sign New Jersey's point guard,
who becomes a free agent in July. Even the most genial athletes
have their limits, and Parker appeared to have reached his on
Sunday night. "I've answered the question 200 times," he said.
"If you can't find it in a newspaper, I can't help you."

Should San Antonio finish off the Mavs and reach the Finals
against the Nets, Parker will truly comprehend the limitlessness
of journalistic redundancy. But while he may grow more weary of
being asked about Kidd vs. the Kid, it's doubtful we'll grow
tired of watching it. --Jack McCallum

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH COLLISION COURSE By bowling over Nash, Parker moved closer to apoint guard showdown with the Nets' You-Know-Who.