|17 May 2013|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Marc Gasol is one of four Europeans lining up in the NBA Western Conference Final|
For the first time since 2008, huge European stars will face off in an NBA conference finals series and just like then, it will be in the West and it will be a Franco-Spanish battle.
The San Antonio Spurs prevailed 94-82 over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night to win their play-off series 4-2 and set up a western conference final of as much interest as that 2008 series which also involved the Spurs, who on that occasion took on the Lakers of Pau Gasol.
Starting Sunday night, the French trio of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo will go up against the Memphis Grizzlies of Spain's Marc Gasol, the younger brother of Pau.
Parker has averaged 22.4 points and 6.3 assists-per-game since the start of the play-offs and leads San Antonio in both scoring and passing in the post-season.
French national team captain Diaw meanwhile missed out on the first-round series against the Lakers but came back against Golden State to contribute to the win with his trademark hard-as-nails defence, averaging 4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists-per-game.
De Colo, in his rookie NBA season, has only had limited playing time, featuring in just three post-season games so far, but could find his way into the Spurs rotation at any time.
Marc Gasol on the other hand, after landing the Defensive Player of the Year award at the end of the Regular Season, has put in performances for Memphis in the play-offs that have strengthened his candidature as the best center in the NBA right now.
Since the start of the post-season, the Spanish big man averages 18.3 points (up from 14.1 in the Regular Season), 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a team-high 2.2 blocks-per-game.
|Boris Diaw has made the most of limited minutes off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs in the play-offs|
One would be hard-pressed to find a journalist or fan in the United States who does not believe that Memphis, a franchise that had never even won a game in the play-offs until 2011, would have reached the conference semi-finals were it not for Gasol.
Beyond the stat lines, the 28-year-old's main contribution was to inject this group with a winning mentality that they were lacking - a winning mentality he picked up playing for Spain with whom he has won almost everything.
"To me it's not time to congratulate everybody," Gasol said after Memphis had defeated last year's Western conference champions Oklahoma City Thunder 88-84 in Game 5, to win the series 4-1 and reach the first final in their history.
"We're still in the process. We're still not there yet."
Parker is the only one in this group of four Europeans who has been there before and, much more importantly, has three NBA champion's rings to show for it.
The French star, who turned 31 on Friday, has been an integral part of the 'Big Three', along with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, who has led the Texan franchise to enormous success in the last decade.
He is also the only European, along with Dirk Nowitzki, to have been named MVP of the NBA finals, gaining the award in 2007.
The last time Marc Gasol met the French trio in a final, was at EuroBasket 2011 and Spain came out on top to claim their second consecutive gold medal.
The winner of the best-of-seven Western conference final will go up against the Eastern Conference champions, who will be either reigning champions Miami Heat, or one of Indiana Pacers or New York Knicks.
Miami have already booked their place in the final, while the Pacers who boast anohter French international, Ian Mahinmi, lead the Knicks 3-2 in their semi-final series.