The ex-factor: Once-again Spur Stephen Jackson
AT&T CENTER–Whether this be a quick fling with an old flame, or something more substantial, for at least one game Stephen Jackson regaled the AT&T Center with a trip down memory lane.
Jackson checked into his first playoff game back with the San Antonio Spurs at the 5:28 mark of the first quarter, and between the big rebounds, a few deflections, and some timely shooting, it was like it was 2003 all over again.
But then, Stephen Jackson has always had a sense of the moment.
When he left after helping the Spurs win their second championship it was just at the right time for both parties.
A fan favorite in the Alamo city for his tough game and rough edges, Jackson is like the crazy old flame we looked back fondly upon simply because they left before their real crazy bubbled to the surface. Jackson needed to find his way in the NBA and the leg room needed simply wasn’t available in San Antonio.
Stephen Jackson became Captain Jack, a star and leader on other teams, albeit one that wore out his welcome in several places. The Spurs won several championships. The mutual success each enjoyed left little thought to the what ifs, and framed that 2003 season as simply a nice memory.
“Everybody has their own road, and everything I’ve been through has made me stronger; A smarter guy, a smarter player,” Jackson said. “I appreciate the good and the bad, but just being back here is sweet. To hear those fans and to have this jersey on is definitely special.”
Crossing paths once again, the Spurs and Jackson better realize the value each had in the other. And though the future between the two remains questionable, if nothing else this dance has proven to rekindle a lost spark.
“He was really good tonight. He got some big boards, some important buckets, getting fouls drawn,” Manu Ginobili said. “We needed his competitiveness and toughness and he brought it today.”
In a series in which the Utah Jazz figured to be the bigger, more physical team, the Spurs’ former ex could prove to be the biggest x-factor.
During the last few weeks of the season the Utah Jazz had stormed into the eighth seed behind their big lineup of Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, and Paul Millsap. Over small stretches the trio managed to put up large numbers and multiple wins.
Headed into the series there were some questions about how problematic this lineup might be given the Spurs apparent size deficiencies.
But if going big was indeed the Jazz trump card, it was rendered somewhat irrelevant in part because the Spurs wild card.
When the Spurs inserted Favors for Josh Howard in the third quarter the Spurs held a nine-point lead. And at the quarter’s end, despite playing a large stretch with the Matt Bonner-DeJuan Blair combination that proved so troublesome last year, the Spurs extended that lead to 15.
There are several reasons that make the lineup a poor fit against the Spurs, and one of them undoubtedly is Jackson’s ability to make this lineup pay with his offense while not being physically overwhelmed on the other end.
And if Matt Bonner can stay on the court long enough to hit a couple three-pointers and swing a game, it’s in part because Jackson’s ability to help defensively and on the boards hides some of Bonner’s weaknesses.
“It’s going to be a war the whole series on the boards. I thought we did a good job rebounding, especially Stephen Jackson,” Tony Parker said. “He was huge on the boards. It’s going to be that way for us and all the smalls need to help.”
Since his departure the Spurs have primarily filled Jackson’s shoes with a standstill three-point shooter and generic defender. The sort that a big lineup such as this could render irrelevant with nothing but a hard closeout.
For better or worse, Jackson has never had trouble with staying invisible. He’s the first in the pile, and the last to leave it. He’s a bridge between the old Spurs and new, and between their frontline and backcourt.
Most importantly Stephen Jackson is back in the playoffs famously romancing pressure, and for now the Spurs love him for it.