San Antonio point guard keeps Clippers at bay down stretch
POSTED: Dec 19, 2015 12:59 AM ET
UPDATED: Dec 19, 2015 3:32 PM ET
Clippers vs. Spurs
The Spurs down the Clippers to improve to 15-0 at home this season.
SAN ANTONIO — This was definitely a different Spurs team than the one that was bumped off by the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs last season.
That team didn't have LaMarcus Aldridge knocking down those jumpers from the wing and using his length to get into the lane for tough rebounds.
That team didn't have David West coming off the bench to calm things down and anchor the second unit at both ends of the floor.
That team didn't have Kawhi Leonard moving up his game to the superstar level.
But mostly, that team didn't have this Tony Parker.
There were the Clippers trying to pull off another late run at the AT&T Center and here was Parker to play the part of tourniquet. Four jump shots in the fourth quarter, each one bigger than the last. Ten solid minutes down the stretch of running, darting and moving the ball through the L.A. defense.
Back in the spring, Parker could do none of it. Slowed by a bad hamstring injury that he suffered in December, Parker was nowhere close to being himself. His speed, mobility and explosiveness were gone.
That, of course, is no way to try to play against All-Star point guard Chris Paul and it showed. Paul averaged 22.7 points, 7.9 assists and shot 51.3 percent from the field in the Clippers seven-game win in the playoffs. Parker struggled to score just 10.9 points, dealt just 3.6 per game and shot only 36.3 percent.
"I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it," Parker said with a grin that sprinted from one ear to to the other. "Obviously it felt a lot better (tonight) than how I was in the playoffs. There was a difference."
Perhaps the biggest difference of all in San Antonio's 115-107 win. It was the kind of win that not only ran their club-record start at home to 15-0 and overall record to 23-5, second-best mark in franchise history, but also put a stake in the ground as to how good the Spurs can be.
"The Clips are a helluva team," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "Very experienced and obviously very well coached. They're disciplined. They're used to winning. So when you can win a game like that it gives you a good measuring stick."
The Spurs clearly stand taller with the free agent acquisition Aldridge a key part of the offense. But they have always been at their best when Parker is crackling around the court like a bolt of lightning, distributing the ball and disrupting defenses. Even on a night when Paul was splendid with 27 points and 10 assists, the Spurs could keep pace with matchup where Parker put 21 points back on him.
At 33, Parker couldn't wait to put what was the most ineffective season of his 15-year NBA career behind him. Now with his well-being is getting managed carefully by Popovich, he is averaging a career-low 26.7 minutes per game and just 12.7 points.
"For me personally, I was really mad at myself," he said. "I was hurt, but there was nothing I could do. I just couldn't wait to start a new season and stay healthy and show that I can still play at a high level. As a team it was disappointing, but now we have a whole new team. We have to focus on the new season."
Popovich had made a point of saying before the game that the Spurs really hadn't been tested much by the schedule so far. In fact, the Clippers provided just the third game this season against a top-four playoff seed in either conference and wouldn't go quietly.
Even after Popovich used his usual tactic of intentionally fouling the free-throw-challenged DeAndre Jordan to interrupt the flow of the Clippers and take control, L.A. pushed and pushed back until Parker ultimately shoved them back right over the edge.
This wasn't the aching, slow Parker who struggled to get up and down the court in the playoffs seven months ago. When L.A. was down just 96-93 with just over six minutes to go in the game, he dribbled through the lane, then curled and went all the way across the baseline until he popped out in the left corner behind Boris Diaw, turned and nailed his second 3-pointer of the final quarter.
"I was just trying to get somebody open," Parker said "I went to my baseline Steve Nash special, but nobody was open. I was like, 'I'm the one who's open.' So I just shot it. I felt like that's my shot in the corner. I've been working hard on that shot.
"That's a team that caused a lot of problems for us. Great win. Now we know that the schedule is gonna get a lot tougher and we have a good amount of confidence to go ahead."
Knowing that they are a different group of Spurs with those new faces and the old Tony Parker.
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