San Antonio Spurs 108, Sacramento Kings 101: Parker’s return overshadowed by Jack’s release
SAN ANTONIO — A day that began with a narrative surrounding Tony Parker’s return to the court quickly changed pace as news of Stephen Jackson’s release abruptly crashed the afternoon Twitter-scape. The Spurs defeated the Kings 108-101 on Friday evening, but the game itself served as no more than an intermission for what took place just hours before.
If you missed it earlier, or currently reside under a large boulder, San Antonio cut ties with the mercurial fan favorite in what Gregg Popovich called a “tough decision” regarding someone he “(enjoys) very much.” Regardless of the situation, Jack will certainly be missed by Spurs fans. Whether this team feels the same way internally is another story. Personal storylines aside, waiving such a popular and formerly important piece of the San Antonio puzzle so close to the postseason seems like piling on a bench already affected by injuries to Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw.
But there was a game played, and the Spurs’ All-Star point guard did make his return to the court for a team that hadn’t topped 100 points in six consecutive games. His presence was felt immediately.
Parker, whose sprained left ankle kept him out for nearly all of March, missed two more games recently with assorted bumps and bruises, but the team’s leading scorer looked relatively fresh in his first action in more than a week. Determined to facilitate early and spark a Spurs team that had been struggling from the perimeter for weeks, Parker finally made his biggest impact late in the first half.
His first shot didn’t come until the 3:38-mark of the second quarter — a lay-up off a Duncan assist — but then the floodgates opened. Parker scored 13 points in the final three and a half minutes of the period, hitting all five of his shots and helping the Spurs to a 60-50 lead at the break.
But the scoring binge didn’t come without a little kick in the butt.
“He probably would’ve had 1,000 assists but nobody could make a shot. He decided if he couldn’t get an assist, he might as well score,” Gregg Popovich said. “I asked him, ‘Are you going to shoot tonight?’ He did, and he was spectacular.”
Parker went for 22 points and 10 assists to push the Spurs to a 58-21 record and clinch no worse than the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
“I was just penetrating and saw guys open. It just happened in the first quarter I didn’t take a shot, but I didn’t do it on purpose,” he said. “Pop definitely asked me if I wanted to shoot tonight, so I was like, ‘I’ll shoot eventually.’ I thought about not shooting the whole game.”
All joking aside, when he did, the shots went down. Parker went 9-for-13 from the floor as he had apparently already shaken off any rust that had formed during his hiatus. He looked quick, fresh, and as Pop said, he “had his wind” from the start of the game. The Spurs’ 108 points against the Kings tonight marked the first time the team topped the century mark since March 29 against the Los Angeles Clippers. And with their floor general back, all San Antonio starters put up double digits.
Tim Duncan had 18 points and five blocks, Kawhi Leonard had 15, Danny Green chipped in 12 on 4-for-6 shooting and Tiago Splitter contributed 12 points, 12 boards, six assists and three blocks in one of his best all-around games of the year. Matt Bonner and Gary Neal went for 11 and 10 points off the bench, respectively.
Splitter and Green are perhaps the two players who benefit most from Parker’s return. Green had his dime-buddy back, kicking it out to him when the defense collapsed, and Splitter was reunited with one of his pick-and-roll partners, receiving the ball from Parker in a position to score.
All in all, things were much more fluid in the Spurs’ world this evening. Despite 18 team turnovers and a less-than-stellar performance from beyond the arc, Parker basically imposed his will on one of the worst defenses in the NBA, but it’s important he was able to do so. Regardless of opponent, San Antonio needed to see the ball go in the basket a little more often than it has in recent weeks. With the Lakers waiting in Los Angeles for Sunday’s matchup, thirsty for wins and a spot in the playoffs, any sort of found rhythm is crucial. [Editor’s note: Kobe Bryant likely tore his achilles tendon late Friday night in a win over the Golden State Warriors, so there’s that.]
And with each passing day we grow nearer and nearer to the moment of Ginobili’s return, something Pop said is a decision that scares him to death. But while Parker returns to form, Manu attempts to return before season’s end and Diaw begins a rehabilitation period that could last a month, Jack has started his summer vacation early.
Except he won’t be back at work anytime soon.