For Tony Parker, it's been a French evolution.

Parker was 19 when he joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2001. They had established stars David Robinson and Tim Duncan and strong-minded coach Gregg Popovich.

Parker continued to improve and became more of a focal point of the offense, but with Duncan still in San Antonio, he didn't feel comfortable being the vocal leader. But after Popovich saw the way Parker carried himself with the French national team in the 2011 European Basketball Championship, he told his All-Star point guard it was time.

"He saw that I was talking all the time and being very vocal and screaming in timeouts with my teammates," Parker said Friday. "He told me after the summer, 'I want you to play like that now. Timmy is getting older and Manu [Ginobili] is getting older. You need to go to the next step to a new level in your game.' It just arrived naturally."

Parker has proved that Popovich made another good decision. The Spurs are Parker's team now, and he has them up 1-0 on the Heat in the NBA Finals. Game 2 is Sunday night.

He had a brilliant Game 1 Thursday night with 21 points, six assists, no turnovers and what he called the "crazy" shot that sealed the game.

Parker bobbled the ball, stumbled, went down on one knee, got up, ducked under LeBron James and hit a bank shot with 5.2 seconds left to clinch the Spurs' 92-88 win.

It might not have been possible if Parker hadn't become the Spurs' closer and Duncan hadn't willingly passed him the torch.

"He's just been an incredible force for us," Duncan said. "Really proud of the fact that he's really doing all that he can to get us to the Finals here, and hopefully win this whole thing."

Popovich said the French national team experience and Parker's appreciation of how hard it was to win three NBA titles -- and a Finals MVP -- in his first six seasons changed his approach.