Beating the Kings was easy, life without Parker will prove much more difficult
AT&T CENTER—Facing one of the more porous defenses in the NBA, the points came fast and easy for the San Antonio Spurs in their 130-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
With 41 of the their 51 made field goals coming by way of assists, the Spurs appeared to find a backdoor layup or open corner 3-pointer at their leisure. Every possession gave way to an easy basket. The question moving forward is how the Spurs will generate such open looks over the next few weeks without their star point guard.
With a little under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Parker effortlessly weaved his way through the Sacramento Kings transition defense like a downhill slalom skier for an easy layup. The only trouble? He didn’t stick the landing, coming down on Isaiah Thomas’ foot, bending his ankle in ways they weren’t designed to bend.
“He’ll be out a while,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s a good one.”
The Spurs didn’t need Parker for most of the night, not against a team as hapless as the Kings. To say the Spurs had great ball movement is overselling it a little bit. It seemed at least half of the Spurs assists were of the quick-hitting variety. One- or two-pass possessions in which the Spurs ran no intricate sets, just a player cutting along the baseline when a defender got caught watching the ball.
And the Kings defenders were always caught watching the ball.
Before the game, Sacramento Kings head coach Keith Smart talked about Tony Parker and the Spurs off-the-ball cuts, breaking down what makes the Spurs system so successful. He noted Parker’s ability to lull defenders to sleep, acting as if he weren’t part of the play, then using a quick burst of speed towards the rim once the defender focused elsewhere.
“I played at Indiana [in college] in a motion offense where you have to move without the basketball,” Smart said. “Well there’s a system to that. You cut when you’re out of the vision of the defender, it’s reading the face of what the defender is doing.”
The Spurs didn’t need to lull defenders to sleep, the Kings already appeared to be hibernating, or comatose.
In the first few minutes of the game, Spurs guard Danny Green fed the ball from the wing to Parker in the corner. A simple cut and back screen from Tim Duncan at the elbow was all that was needed for a quick-hitting pass and layup at the rim.
Later in the first quarter in a somewhat delayed transition opportunity, Kawhi Leonard nonchalantly jogs down the court. The moment his defender turns his head to focus on Ginobili dribbling harmlessly near the top of the key, Leonard breaks into a full sprint towards the rim for a one-pass dunk.
These assists weren’t coming off of complicated action. Coming off a sloppy game against the Phoenix Suns the Spurs moved the ball with a purpose against a team that defended without one.
“We kind of gave up early,” Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins said of his team’s lack of energy. “We cannot come out that way.”
The Spurs system has survived brief stretches without Parker before, but it will have to get inventive in creating easy baskets when a defense gets locked in.
“Obviously, it’s a huge loss. He’s been our leader all year long. We’ve played with all kinds of difficulties throughout this year, we’re going to rally,” Duncan said. “We need a lot of ball movement, a lot of body movement and try to counter it that way.”
One of the solutions is Duncan facilitating the offense, draining jumpers and hitting cutters with pinpoint passes from his spot perched in the high post. Duncan turned in his steadiest performance since returning from injury, submitting 13 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists while playing the same high-post facilitator once perfected by the Kings’ Chris Webber years ago.
“Obviously Webber was a flashier passer, he liked the behind the back and through the legs type of passes,” Green said. “But Timmy’s a great passer, he’s one of the best big men passers ever in the league.”
The more likely solution is an extended role for Manu Ginobili, who has been the second unit point guard for most of the season anyways. Ginobili notched a career-high 15 assists and represents the only Spurs perimeter threat that can create shots for himself and others.
“He’s going to have to pick it up and continue to be aggressive and attacking in the type of fashion that he has for us,” Duncan said of Ginobili.
Without Parker, everything just got more difficult.