RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Tony Parker is keeping his minutes down as he gets back into game shape.
Good thing for France he was ready to play at the end.
Parker hit the go-ahead jumper with 31 seconds left, and the French beat Serbia 76-75 on Monday in an Olympic men’s basketball game.
“I was waiting for my moment,” Parker said.
It didn’t appear one would be necessary after the French raced to a 20-4 lead. But Serbia rallied and had a 75-70 advantage before Nando de Colo scored four straight points.
Parker, who had finally checked back into the game with about 3 ½ minutes left, then got the ball toward the corner as the shot clock was winding down and launched a shot that he said felt good as soon as it left his hands.
Parker has won four championships with the San Antonio Spurs and was the MVP of the 2007 NBA Finals, but it’s not often he gets a feeling like Monday.
“It’s awesome,” Parker said. “It’s not every day you hit almost a buzzer-beater, a game-winning shot against a great team. Serbia has an unbelievable team. It was a great win for us.”
Parker missed some time with his French teammates as his wife delivered their second son, Liam, on July 29. Parker then rejoined the squad for his second Olympics, but early in the tournament he’s only playing about 20-25 minutes as he rebuilds is conditioning.
So he had a seat on the France bench while Serbia’s lead grew to as much as seven points in the final period. He came back on as the Serbians were making two free throws that made it 75-70.
“We didn’t want to burn his energy too soon,” French coach Vincent Collet said.
France, considered a medal contender, has won two in a row after dropping its Olympic opener. Parker became the EuroBasket career scoring leader in last summer’s tournament, but the French lost to Spain in the semifinals, forcing them to win an Olympic qualifying tournament his summer.
There was initial fear Parker, 34, could miss the tournament after his wife became pregnant, but he was available to help the French secure their spot in early July. The French are a close-knit group staying together in the Olympic village, and Parker wanted to be a part of it.
“I love being in the village,” he said. “It’s part of the Olympic experience being with everybody and sharing experiences with all the other athletes and meeting everyone. That’s what I like the most is meeting all the other athletes and enjoying ourselves. It’s been a great experience.”
And it’s getting better for a French team that was routed by Australia in its opener.
The French looked sharp early in this one during a blistering start in front of top-ranked Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, who watched his home country after he was eliminated in singles earlier in the Olympics.
The lead got away from France, and the game almost did, too. A careless turnover after Parker’s jumper when de Colo threw an ill-advised alley-oop instead of trying to run out the clock gave Serbia one last chance, and Bogdan Bogdanovic’s shot from inside halfcourt bounced out at the buzzer.
“It couldn’t get any closer,” Parker said.
But when it didn’t fall, the French had a win worth celebrating.
“We had a rough start and now I feel like we’re back to our identity and we’re playing a lot better,” Parker said.