Parker shakes the pain, attacks Dubs defense
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.