Parker shakes the pain, attacks Dubs defense

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AT&T CENTER — Gregg Popovich said prior to tip there was a knot in Tony Parker’s calf in Game 4, that he couldn’t plant or push off. But on Tuesday night he pounced, probing and pulling the Warriors left and right at his own will in a 109-91 victory in San Antonio.

We saw the old Tony again, and with him, the old Spurs.

It wasn’t that the gameplan changed heading into Game 5. The shots just fell, and the defense remained a constant as the Spurs took a 3-2 series lead and pushed Golden State back home without any certainty of a return flight.

The Warriors’ shooters that exploded through the first two games have had a defender within a foot of them since the clock started in the second half of Game 2, and the damage they’ve done has been limited to short bursts rather than the sustained stretches that break your back.

Danny Green — who finished 16 points on just 10 shots — said the Spurs finally played a complete game.

“A big key for us tonight was more rebounding and defense, so we finally get a chance to put two things together, both offensively and defensively. Usually, we play good defense and don’t shoot well, or we shoot pretty well and don’t play good defense,” he said. “Tonight I think we had a decent night on both ends of the floor, and that opened things up for us a little bit.”

Golden State’s 91 points were the fewest the Spurs have allowed them to score through five games, and in the all-important Game 5, San Antonio looked as complete as it had in weeks. But the players don’t look at the win with a sense of relief, just with the feel of finally playing their brand of ball.

“It felt good to play good basketball, definitely. Sense of relief? No. We still have a lot of basketball to play, and these young kids are playing really well, playing good basketball and playing with a lot of confidence, and they’re not going to go down without a fight,” Green said. “So we have to continue to do this for another game or two. Hopefully, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we won’t have to play the second game.”

And as the defense continued to eat space on the perimeter — namely Green and Kawhi Leonard — without letting the Dubs’ marksmen comfortably aim for their target, Parker was back on his game. But vintage Tony wasn’t engaged until his team needed him. Parker said his leg was affecting him early on as the pain and pressure from his bruised calf had spread to his Achilles. He said he felt 50 years old.

He finally began to act his age once his legs warmed up.

It became necessary for the 30-year-old to return to form in another tight game, because when Parker hasn’t been the best player on the floor, the Spurs have gotten into trouble. And the margin for error was shrinking by the day, which meant there wasn’t much time left for a reaction.

“For whatever reason, it was hurting in the first quarter. I kept telling myself, ‘It’ll get warm. It’ll get warm,'” Parker said. “In the second half it got better. I just kept pushing and my teammates were making shots. In the first half, the ball movement was great, and in the second half I was more aggressive.”

As if he was being cornered, Parker attacked the Golden State defense. He had settled for enough mid-range jumpers, settled for being walled off from the basket and playing into what the Warriors had invited. No longer.

Golden State is more than happy to leave those free throw line looks to Parker and Tim Duncan out of the pick-and-roll, because they know the alternative. The injury to Andrew Bogut’s ankle has him resembling a rooted tree in open space, which is typically a death knell against an on-the-move Parker. So the Warriors are making sure the big man doesn’t stray too far from the rim, because if Parker gets to it, the ripple effect takes control.

We’ve seen nights like Game 3 where his jumper is automatic, and he’s often good enough to  carry a team. But it’s when the defense is forced to collapse on him where the floodgates open wide. It’s when the Spurs’ ball movement becomes too difficult to chase possession after possession.

And San Antonio has continued to stress that it needs to continue to play within the system. On this night, Parker didn’t just stop 18 feet from the basket and step back to shoot. He kept the dribble alive, often circling the restricted area as Golden State defenders were hanging on every motion. Parker sucked them in and spit the ball out, just as he’s done to so many defenses in his career.

His 25 points were tied for a game high with Harrison Barnes, but the 10 assists led the way overall. And the Spurs’ 30 assists on 40 field goals with just 10 turnovers is a blueprint for a ton of success.

“This was the most rhythmic we’ve been this series by far. The way that Golden State plays defense, they force me left and they’re not helping even if I’m probing,” Parker said. “They give Timmy whatever he wants from the top and they know we have great shooters, so they’re not helping that much.”

Given the domino effect Parker creates with his penetration, it’s no wonder he was in the MVP discussion for much of the year. He’s as much a barometer of success for his team as there is in the league, and when he’s being aggressive and opening perimeter opportunities for Green, Leonard and the rest of the bunch, the Spurs look like the Spurs again.

“For whatever reason tonight, I got going. Timmy got going in the second half and we made shots. The ball movement was good. Hopefully we can do the same thing in Oakland,” Parker said. “That’s the big key for us. In Game 2 we only had four assists at halftime. That’s not us. We have to play Spurs basketball and move their defense.”

And if the defense is moving, it means its pieces are, too. Most importantly, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The two combined to shoot 6-for-22 from the floor as San Antonio’s perimeter made life difficult for Golden State’s shooting stars on both sides of the ball, latching on with a vise grip defensively and crashing them into screen after screen on the offensive end.

Green has been glued to Curry in their matchups since halftime of Game 2, and Leonard — 17 points on eight shots — has made Thompson vanish while significantly impacting the game on both ends. What recently looked like the best shooting backcourt we’ve ever seen — and it still might be — has been made into an afterthought behind Harrison Barnes’ emergence and Jarrett Jack’s hero ball sessions.

Since Curry and Thompson combined to average better than 59 points per game during the first two contests, the duo has only put up 26 a night over the previous three games. And much of that has to do with the load that’s been heaped upon them in their first postseason together.

Tired legs mean tired shots, and the Warriors definitely seemed to have the latter. The ‘Splash Brothers’ had only one 3-pointer between them — a Curry side-step shot off a handoff in the corner — and it was the first time all season Thompson did not even record an attempt from the 3-point line. If that trend continues, there will be no Game 7.

The Spurs seem to have figured this series out, learning the most effective methods of defending the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team along the way. It’s just been a matter of trusting the process, rebounding and playing defense. The shots would eventually fall if they bought in to the tried-and-true San Antonio system.

But when Parker is Parker, the rest typically takes care of itself.


  • FromKabulWithLove

    Tony definitely is the key to the Spurs triumphing in this series. Dumping the ball down to Timmy in the post, or the single pass to a perimeter shooter isn’t cutting it. The Spurs need Tony to work the pick and roll and do what he does best, penetrate in the lane to draw defenders and either make the layup or dish out for the open 3.

  • http://www.facebook.com/spencer.pierce1 Spencer Pierce

    I thought the Spurs’ offensive attack against Curry was a huge factor in this game. Green was aggressive throughout, but when Manu came in for Green and Curry was forced to guard Parker, the Spurs ran Parker through a maze of screens. It really seemed to wear Steph out, and I thought was a big contributor to the win, because like Tony said, “he’s the head of the snake”.

  • Gomezd

    IM so glad to see parker playing well… I wonder were TRADETP is nowdays

  • Bob

    The Spurs are in this spot because he hasn’t played that well. If he had played well enough they would be in the WCF already.

  • SpursSurge82

    Overall, I have been pretty pleased with the way we have played defense. We have contained their two best players and forced their role players to win games. At some point you have to assume that the law of averages will win out and Jack and Barnes will stop making everything. I have not seen a player play so far above his ability as Jack has this series, he is due to come back to earth and I think we saw that in the latter parts of the second half. Two things on defense that bear mentioning though, 1. Bonner needs to saty on the bench. I know, I know he “spreads the floor” and “keeps the defense honest”, well last night after his lone 3 he allowed something like 5 or 7 straight points, including a Jefferson 3 point play. 2 More minutes for Joseph (AKA Baby Broseph), he is the only backcourt player that seems to bother JAck. I would be interested to see Jack’s % vs Joseph compared to Parker, Neal, Ginobili.

    On offense, we finally got back to our brand of basketball, namely moving the ball around. I think we have been settling for too many jumpers early in the shot clock. Sometimes it feels like the Spurs are trying too hard to break the game wide open and we waste some posessions. I cannot for the life of me understand why when Lee is on the floor we Don’t attack the basket more than we have. His lateral movement is not there at all but when he is in the game we start settling for jumpers. Tim is starting to look a little tired, his shot had no elevation in the second half, I think we can attribute that to having to bang down low with Howard and Bogut for the better part of a month now but the going is not going to get any easier with probably Gasol and ZBo waiting next round if we close out the Ws. We need to end this on Thursday and get some badly needed rest and hope OKC can push the Grizz.

  • Andrew G

    Hey Jackson: BLUFF CALLED.

    P.S. God hates the Warriors.

  • PRSpur

    Dubs?

  • http://twitter.com/ejwestksu Eric Westerman

    I think this is the best all around game the team has played since pre-Parker ankle injury. Certainly the best we have seen them play since Portland debacle at home a couple months back.

  • este

    I think Kawhi is the key to this series. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from the big 3, they may have an off game here or there but you pretty much know what you’re going to get.

    Kawhi looked like the guy we’ve seen all season. If Kawhi played the first 4 games like he played last night this might have been a sweep.

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  • kalone

    The defense top-down was much better tonight than it has been. Green and Leonard have played phenomenal defense since game 2, as you say, but the team effort on helping with screens and playing strong in front of the basket has waxed and waned. For the brief stretches he was in the game, I thought Splitter played tall last night. Diaw moved around a lot and almost always seemed to make the right decision about when to help or sag off and who to rotate against. CoJo is becoming a stick-up-in-your-shirt, on-ball defender.

    Great to see our team again. That first-round bye might have cost us mentally, but we’re starting to look fully armed and operational once more.

  • ewhite06

    I liked how Green and Leonard became more prevalent in the offense. They made Curry and Thompson play defense visibly wearing them out (and frustrating them). If it we were to rely solely on Parker making things happen he was going to crumble or get hurt pushing it. Parker was wore out at the end – we needed someone else to take some of the shots and we got it this time. The ball movement was the key. It kept GS moving and reacting not standing pat waiting for a Spur to run into them. You can guarantee Marc Jackson will give the Splash Bros. the green light for Game 6. I expect them to come out firing from the opening tip and try to get back the mojo from Gm 1 & 2. But if the Spurs can keep the ball moving and make those 2 play some defense…

  • Len

    Spurs were also able to force Curry into switching onto Leonard a few times. Seems Pop is giving Jackson a taste of his own medicine.

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  • NYC

    I remember that guy. Not showing his mug around here no more, now is he?