By Jeff McDonald
Behind the scenes, the birthday boy fastened his tie just so, cinching into a knot just so before ambling up to the interview podium to meet his public.
It was there, in front of a national television audience, that the newly turned 30-year-old Tony Parker was forced to confront the obvious.
Yes, he was old now too.
“I’ve fought it the whole season,” Parker said. “Now I have to let it go.”
The team everyone still thinks is older than dirt inducted a new member to the 30-and-over club Thursday, the same day they raced past the Los Angeles Clippers 105-88 in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.
In leading the Spurs to a 2-0 lead that feels insurmountable, Parker didn’t look a day over 29. He celebrated the Big Three-Oh with 22 points, and he defended a hobbling Chris Paul, and he took command of the Spurs’ offense when it needed taking command of.
The rest of the Spurs’ Old Man crew didn’t look so decrepit, either.
With 36-year-old Tim Duncan again steadying the ship– and perhaps sending the Clippers scurrying for his Virgin Islands birth certificate — and the 30-year-old Boris Diaw enjoying his highest-scoring night since moving from Charlotte, the Spurs won their 16th game in a row.
Only twice before have the Spurs won 17 straight: In 1995-96 and 2003-04, the latter streak ending at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals.
These Clippers aren’t those Lakers. And these old Spurs aren’t those old Spurs.
Two nights after notching a playoff-high 26 points in Game 1, Duncan poured in 14 of his 18 in the first half of Game 2, when the score was still in doubt and every basket mattered. He used every tool in the tool kit to get it, going glass one moment, schooling young DeAndre Jordan in the post the next, going 9 of 14 from the field.
“Vintage Timmy,” Parker called it.
Instead of, you know, old Tim.
“I feel unbelievable,” Duncan said. “Better than I have in the last four or five years. For whatever reason, I feel healthy, and I feel great.”
Diaw, who went from late-March import to starting center in a French flash, scored 16 points and was a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor. Parker’s countryman, one month his senior, also added some surprisingly rugged defense on Blake Griffin, who again had to work for his 20 points, which came on 16 shots.
“He’s fit in pretty seamlessly,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Diaw.
While the Spurs’ over-30 club was running amok — and getting four timely 3-pointers from 24-year-old guard Danny Green — Paul again looked like an AARP member shuffling to the earlybird dinner.
The 27-year-old All-Star muddled through a second-straight disaster, balancing his 10 points and five assists with a career-worst eight turnovers. In two games to start the series, the Clippers’ All-Star point guard is 7 of 21 from the field with 16 points and 14 turnovers.
Blame a strained hip flexor and bum groin, which have clearly limited Paul’s effectiveness. But also credit Parker.
“Tony did the lion’s share of work tonight on Chris,” Popovich said. “He really set a tone tonight. He was just driven.”
And now, Parker and the other Spurs’ 30-somethings head to Los Angeles with a chance to close the series out by sweeping a back-to-back Saturday and Sunday.
There was a time the Spurs might have struggled in such a situation, but those were the old Spurs. Not these old Spurs, who by the way still boast an average age under 30.
“They’ve been saying the Spurs are old for 10 years now,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “They’re not old.”
Yet the Spurs did get a day older Thursday, when Parker blew out 30 candles.
The day before, Popovich had marveled at the thought, how the wet-behind-the-ears teenager who arrived in San Antonio in 2001 was now a grown, 30-year-old man.
“Whoever said time flies wasn’t an idiot,” Popovich said. “It seems like he got here just last year.”
In a season that has felt like one prolonged flashback, with the Spurs chasing a fifth championship five years after their last, time has seemed to stand still. Now, the Spurs are halfway to their first Western Conference finals since 2008, inching closer to the finish line.
A day that began with a celebration Thursday ended with one, too. The only question now is how many more there are to come.
SPURS VS. CLIPPERS
(Spurs lead best-of-seven series 2-0)
Game 3: Saturday, @Clippers, 2:30 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Sunday, @Clippers, 9:30 p.m., TNT
* Game 5: Tuesday, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* Game 6: May 25, @Clippers, TBA, ESPN
* Game 7: May 27, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* If necessary