Posted May 4 2012 11:21AM
SALT LAKE CITY -- The official roster says Devin Harris is bigger than Tony Parker, taller by an inch. There was a time not so long ago when a lot of wise observers believed the growth spurt was going to continue on the court as well.
That was the spring of 2006 when Parker had already collected a pair of championship rings with the Spurs, but then Harris shot up like a flare into the night sky and made everyone turn and notice.
Harris had missed half the Mavericks' regular season with a leg injury, but jumped into the starting in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Spurs. In three straight games, he averaged just under 21 points a game, Dallas went on to win the series in seven and went all the way to the NBA Finals, while the Spurs went home early after their league-leading 63 wins.
In the what-have-you-done-lately sports world, Parker was suddenly as unappealing as a week-old baguette, prone to crumble, or so it was thought.
The fact is Parker did get harder and smarter and craftier and better. But even he couldn't help letting out a sigh of relief when the Mavs traded the nemesis Harris to New Jersey in February 2008.
"To be honest with you, I'm really happy for that trade," Parker said back then.
To be brutally honest, the two point guards did go in different directions with their careers. Nowhere has that been more evident than the current first-round series, where the first thing on the Jazz' minds when they wake up in the morning and the last thing that haunts them at night is how to handle Parker. All while Harris has struggled to make even the slightest impact against the Spurs.
Through the first two games, Parker has shot 16-for-29 from the field, scored 46 points and dished 17 assists compared to 5-for-16 shooting, 12 points, three assists and seven turnovers by Harris.
"We just can't get to our spots offensively," Harris said. "They have thrown off our rhythm a little bit...With a team like this, obviously you have to score as well as defend."
The trouble is that the Jazz have been unable to score either from the backcourt or what was supposed to be an advantage with the big front line, because the Spurs have shrunk the floor and simply not allowed them to run their offense.
It's easy to think back to those days in '06 when a younger Harris was able to use his raw speed and darting quickness against Parker and get into the paint and the heart of the Spurs' defense to create havoc. And it's tempting to wonder what might have become of the rivalry between the pair if Harris had remained in Texas.
Of course, the player the Mavericks acquired in the deal for Harris was Jason Kidd and he did quite well by them last June in the rematch win over Miami in the Finals. Parker, having faced the first real setback of his early career, recovered immediately from '06 and returned to become MVP of the Finals in '07 when the Spurs swept Cleveland.
Harris scored points and posted stats and even got an All-Star nod during his three years in New Jersey, but never blossomed and stepped up to the next level. Then he arrived in Utah last season and played a vital role in the Jazz' late-season drive to seven wins in their final nine games -- including five in a row -- to make it into the playoffs.
This was supposed to be the showdown re-engaged and Parker was not unaware.
"With Dallas, he was like a young buck," Parker said. "He was playing with a lot of energy. He had no conscious. Now he's running the team. It's a little different."
It's certainly different in the way the head-to-head duel has gone since the last time they met in the playoffs and that's had so much to do with the way the Spurs have dominated the first two games. Yet Harris believes he and the Jazz have another gear.
"We look forward to playing on our home floor," he said. "We will have the crowd behind us and it's another opportunity for us. By all means, they won the first two games and they were supposed to. They're a good team. But the series doesn't start until somebody wins on their opponent's home floor."
Growth comes in different forms.
Harris knows what it's like and what it takes to stand up in the face of the Spurs' system and execution and determination.
Parker knows from past experience what Harris can bring to the table.
"He makes them go," Parker said.
Now Harris will have to, just for the Jazz to claim any measure of respect in the series.
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