SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Darting around the court - and the Cleveland Cavaliers - in Game 1 of the NBA finals, Tony Parker was nearly unstoppable.
He scored 27 points to help the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cavaliers, who spent Friday scheming ways to contain him.
But if the Spurs had gotten their way four years ago, Parker, perhaps, wouldn't even be here.
``That never happened, so I'm happy about that and I'm happy that Tony is playing,'' Tim Duncan said. ``Let's just leave it at that.''
The ``that'' - or who, to be more specific - Duncan was referring to is Jason Kidd. In the summer after the Spurs won their second NBA title, in 2003, the team was aggressively recruiting Kidd, who was and still is with the New Jersey Nets.
Had Kidd signed on, it's possible Parker wouldn't be three wins away from his third NBA title.
``It was just that summer of '03, and then after that I forgot about it,'' Parker said. ``Then I was just focusing on me trying to improve and get better as a basketball player.''
That's what he did, and now the 25-year-old Parker is emerging as the heir apparent to the Spurs' No. 1, Duncan.
``If you look for one person that's a steady impact throughout the finals, I'm looking for that second person to be Tony more so than anyone else,'' former Spurs star David Robinson said. ``If there's anybody other than Tim that even has a chance to be an MVP of the finals, it would be Tony.''
Teammate Michael Finley said Parker should be mentioned with the top point guards in the league - such as Kidd - and is always looking to know how he can improve.
``I always critique him after the good games, after the bad games just to let him know there's room for improvement,'' Finley said. ``He could have done this a little bit better, he did this good, but he's always open for constructive criticism and I think that's what's going to help him in the long run.''
Parker's quickness is a major element that sets him apart, along with his ability to drive the lane for acrobatic layups that he makes look all-too-easy.
``He gets shots right up to the rim,'' Duncan said. ``They have arguments all the time about who's the best fastest in the NBA, and I don't know if he's the fastest, but he will get around just about anybody.''
The point guard was drafted at age 19 by the Spurs in 2001 as the 28th overall pick. Before that, he played two seasons in the French A League.
``It's night and day,'' Duncan said. ``I honestly didn't know what to expect with him coming in here. ... I had no idea he'd become the player he is right now.''
Duncan said Parker went through ``hell and back'' in his development over the last few years. Parker doesn't deny he's been pushed hard, mostly by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
``It was a little bit like father and son,'' Parker said. ``He was always hard on me. He always screams at me and always tried to push me because I'm a little bit like nonchalant sometimes in practice and a little bit lazy, so he's always like behind me.''
On the court, though, Parker only makes tough shots look nonchalant. His quick drives to the basket and ability to change pace - when he looks like he's at top speed, he can turn it on and tear away even faster - require an athleticism that has stunned and impressed opponents.
``He's very good, he's very quick, and he knows where he wants to get on the court,'' the Cavs' LeBron James said. ``It's very difficult, but basically we're going to have to challenge ourselves to keep him out of the paint.''
If that's even possible. Is there a way to keep the speedy Parker out of the lane and away from the basket?
``Well, I mean, if there is, I hope nobody figures it out,'' Popovich said.
Cavs coach Mike Brown is already appealing to a higher power for help: ``I'm going to pray a little bit. That's the first thing.''

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