Tony Parker’s big second half in Game 2 reminds us that he’s still Tony Parker
AT&T CENTER — Sometimes writing about basketball isn’t that fun. You sit there and come up with story ideas and angles and all the supporting material to go along with it, all while watching the game. Then you stress over possible questions to ask and who you should get quotes from.
It sounds glamorous, but covering a basketball game isn’t like sitting at home on the couch with a beer in hand.
I was working on a idea shortly after halftime of the San Antonio Spurs 102-91 Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Tony Parker shot 1-of-6 in the first half, scoring just four points. This after shooting 8-of-21 (38 percent) in Game 1′s win. It wasn’t the start to the playoffs Spurs fans were hoping for from their team’s offensive catalyst.
“I was actually a little concerned,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said about Parker’s first half performance.
So I was working on an angle. Tony Parker’s start to the 2013 NBA Playoffs was eerily similar to the way he began the 2012-13 regular season. Over the first 10 games of the season, Parker converted an inefficient 57 of his 139 field goal attempts, good for a 41 percent clip. For reference, Parker finished the season shooting over 52 percent from the floor.
Then Tony Parker started the second half by dribbling off a Tim Duncan pick and hitting a 14-foot jump shot.
Then Dwight Howard picked up his third foul battling for a Pau Gasol miss. Three possessions later Parker drew a foul and knocked down both free throws. 30 seconds later Howard picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench for the rest of the period.
With Howard not available to protect the rim for the Lakers, Parker scored another 11 points in the quarter and finished with a game-high 28 points. This along with seven assists in leading the Spurs to a 115.7 offensive efficiency for the night, something more closely resembling the offensive juggernaut the team had become in the last couple of seasons. Certainly not the team that sputtered its way into the playoffs losing seven of its last 10 games.
And there went my angle.
After spraining his ankle on March 1 against the Sacramento Kings, Parker showed glimpses of the player who was gaining MVP buzz coming down the stretch. He still knew the offense like the back of his hand and the 15-foot jumpshot had no problem falling, but the burst and body control that enabled him to get to the rim and finish with relative ease was missing.
“I’ve been battling a lot of injuries,” Parker said after the game. “It felt good tonight, so hopefully I can maintain that.”
When Tony Parker can’t get easy buckets in transition and collapse defenses with his penetration, the entire Spurs offense fails to click. Though it’s a stretch to say that overcoming the defensive pressure of Steve Blake and Steve Nash is enough to say that Parker has turned the corner and is back to his old self, the second half performance he submitted in Game 2 is an encouraging sign for the Spurs. Especially when Manu Ginobili (13 points, seven assists, five rebounds) seems to have made a similar recovery to Parker and Kawhi Leonard (16 points, seven rebounds) can score without taking touches away from his more accomplished teammates.
The Spurs defense may be improved this season, but San Antonio will still need elite play from its offense in order to make the Western Conference Finals and pose any threat to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who seem destined to advance at least that far. And even in this first round series, with Tim Duncan (16 points, five rebounds) expending a lot of energy battling Howard and Gasol down low, San Antonio needs dynamic attacking play out of its guards.
It may be too soon to say that Tony Parker is back to the peak level we saw him at earlier this season. There will need to be similar performances against stingier defenses (or at least similar stretches when Dwight Howard is in the game). Just know that after the second half he submitted in Game 2, I won’t be spending a lot of time thinking of ways to describe a bad start to the playoffs for Parker.
Advanced statistics courtesy of NBA.com/Stats