LAS VEGAS – NBA legend Tony Parker believes the Boston Celtics can emulate the San Antonio Spurs‘ path to a championship following their 2022 NBA Finals loss to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Before the Warriors ran off three straight wins to close out the Finals, it was the Celtics who held a 2-1 series lead. Boston appeared to take brief control of games at certain points throughout the series, including double-digit leads in each of Games 4-6, but it was Steph Curry who led the Warriors to their fourth NBA Championship in eight seasons.
The one thing both the Spurs and Celtics share in common is coach Ime Udoka. Udoka was an assistant coach on Gregg Popovich's staff that lost to the Miami Heat in 2013. That same team followed up the Finals collapse with an absolute clinic in 2014, convincingly defeating the Heat in five games.
“For me, the way we lost in 2013, it created what happened in 2014,” Parker told ClutchPoints at the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas. “Maybe one of the best Finals in NBA history and maybe the best Spurs basketball that we played in 2014. The way we played, the passing game, everything. We were like maybe the highest level my whole career with the Spurs, it was in 2014. It started with a tough loss in 2013.”
The Spurs won all five of the franchise's NBA Championships in the 19-year Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era. Parker joined the Spurs shortly after their first in 1999, playing a significant starting role in the remaining four titles. 2013 marked the first and only time the Spurs lost in the NBA Finals. And to lose the clinching Game 6 the way they did — up five points with 28 seconds and then blowing Game 7 as well?
For the entire group, it was uncharted waters.
“I just hate losing,” Tony Parker said when asked what stuck with him. “Just hate losing.
“I think about it every day for sure. Especially the way we lost, like crazy in 2013 because we were up five with 28 seconds and we were like winning the championship. Like 99% of the time, you win that game, but we went to overtime, lost Game 6. Lost Game 7, and it was a tough way to lose when you're up 3-2.”
"I've played a lot of Poker in the plane with my teammates. Now that I got a little bit more time, I can play in the @WSOP.”
Tony Parker showing off the World Series of Poker Main Event bracelet that the winner will take home.
(via @TomerAzarly) pic.twitter.com/wPFBck83rQ
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) July 16, 2022
The Spurs responded by putting together the best record in the NBA and third best season in franchise history with a record of 62-20. They would eliminate the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, and Oklahoma City Thunder before eviscerating the Miami Heat in five games, with an 14-point average margin of victory.
The ball movement and player involvement was so top notch, the Spurs didn't have a single player average over 16.7 points during the regular season and no player averaged 20 points in any of their four postseason series.
“The way we came back, I'm very proud of that. Shows a lot of character in the team. For the Celtics, that's what they have to do. They're still young. We were old and we still came back, so they can definitely do it.”
More than anything, Tony Parker feels strongly about the Celtics ability to bounce back because of the man at the helm leading them.
“[Ime Udoka] was with us in those years, so he can definitely take some stuff from what we had to go through. I played with him as teammates, had him as a coach, so he's been through everything with us. He knows better than anybody how to bounce back from a tough NBA Finals.”
Boston held the advantages when it came to athleticism, but the Warriors figured some things out midway through the series, making life hell on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It's part of the growing pains for the Celtics, but Tony Parker believes they're not going anywhere.
“It's amazing. It's not easy in [Udoka's] first year to go all the way to the Finals. Very happy for him, very proud of him, and what he did with that group is pretty impressive. I think Boston's gonna be good for a long time.”
The Celtics have a bright future ahead of them. With the exception of Al Horford, Boston's core is all either in their prime or entering their prime. 27-year old Marcus Smart is coming off a year in which he won Defensive Player of the Year. Jayson Tatum is still only 23 years old, Robert Williams 24, and Jaylen Brown 25.
Bouncing back won't be easy, as the Eastern Conference is expected to be a bloodbath once again with the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Atlanta Hawks all retooling with the intention of making deeper playoff runs.