Old Man Parker
So lop-sided was the Spurs first playoff series that point guard Tony Parker, in a moment of frustration over a week-long lack of playing time, haggled with head coach Gregg Popovich over a few more minutes of court time.
“I’m 29 years old,” Parker argued.
It’s an argument that, as of today, Parker will no longer win. Today Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili officially welcome Tony Parker to the wrong side of 30; not an old number, mind you, but one that doesn’t ring as youthful as 29.
Fortunately for Tony Parker, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, it’s not an argument that Parker is likely to have to make for the rest of the playoffs. After all, Chris Paul is here to celebrate Parker’s birthday too, more than eager to test his now 30-year old legs.
In Game 1 Parker played a game-high 38 minutes, several of them spent picking himself up off the floor. The heavy minutes will be a necessity throughout the series, given the ball pressure the Clippers were able to apply to the Spurs second unit.
In the first game the two All-Star point guards battled each other to a standstill, but probably not in a way either one of them imagined. On their way to double-digit assists, Parker hit a single field goal, Paul held scoreless in the first half.
“I think Parker and Green did a good job on Chris Paul, and Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe did a great job on Tony,” Popovich said. “So it’s both ways. Just look at the stats for both those guys, they’re probably both scratching their heads.
On Wednesday Paul was certainly itching to get back on the court. With each mistake committed to memory, Paul went over each of his five turnovers with the media after practice.
“They’re just plays I wish I could have back,” Paul said. “One of them was a travel in the lane, I felt the ball was knocked out of my hand, threw a bad pass to Reggie when I was in the air and I probably should have shot it. A bad pass to [Eric Bledsoe] between his legs. I remember all of them.”
Paul is the type of player that can instantaneously recall any number of his few mistakes, and the competitive fire to ensure that they don’t happen again.
Earlier in the season a rare Chris Paul turnover in the closing seconds of a game allowed Gary Neal to down the Clippers. The next time the Clippers and Spurs met, albeit without Tony Parker, the Clippers ran roughshod over the Spurs.
“He has a nasty streak, he’s go fiber, competitiveness,” Popovich said. “He wants to put his foot on your neck, that’s why he’s out there. He’s out there to kick your butt.”
By now the Clippers have had ample opportunity to see how the Spurs walled off and zoned each side pick and roll, counting on Paul’s predilection towards making the right play by skewing the right play into favorable percentages for the Spurs. And if Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and his staff can’t come up with a reasonable solution, count on Paul to invent one on the spot.
“We have to play tough defense on him,” Parker said. “Hopefully we can do it again but I’m sure he’s going to bounce back and shoot the ball a little bit better.
“We basically cancelled each other out last time.”
If the Spurs are going to run away with this series, Parker is going to continue to have to equal his counterpart. That Parker’s first game mirrored Paul’s while facing a similar strategy speaks volumes as to how much he’s grown as a point guard.
“From the beginning of the game they wanted to take me out, trapping me, forcing me to give the ball up,” Parker said. “So if they want to do that strategy, Timmy is going to get a lot of open shots and all our shooters are going to get wide open shots.”
With age comes wisdom. And as for tired legs?
“We just had what, two months off,” Parker joked. “I can handle three games in four days.”
After all, he’s only 30.