EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., June 12
The Nets were able to corral Tony Parker in Game 4.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
-- In the end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
went with his starting point guard.
With Tony Parker unable to find the basket on his way to a 1-of-12 shooting night in Game 4, Popovich yanked him less than five minutes into the third quarter, subbing in backup Speedy Claxton. Teaming with fellow reserve Kevin Willis, Claxton led the Spurs on an 18-4 run to close out the period, challenging the Nets' defense and getting to the hoop for layups the way Parker hadn't been able to all game. As a result, San Antonio entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead after trailing by 15 just minutes earlier.
"Thatís coachís decision," stated Parker of getting benched. "You canít argue with that."
When Parker re-entered the game with 8:04 remaining, he was passive, attempting only two more shots -- missing both -- and recording no assists the rest of the way. In the half-court set, he primarily dumped the ball early to Tim Duncan in the post, and with the rest of the offense stagnant, the Spurs made just four more field goals, two of those by Duncan in the final six seconds.
Afterward, Popovich admitted the decision to put Parker back on the court was a difficult one.
"Speedy played really well tonight," he said. "We needed to take him out because he was getting dead tired, and we agonized whether we should go with him or come back with Tony Parker, who has been so good for us in so many games. We just decided he's our starting point guard, who makes big shots and we're going to stick with him through the series, and we wanted to show that confidence in him. That was the reasoning.
"It was one of those things that could have gone either way."
Parker had drawn raves after averaging 21.0 points on .462 shooting through the first three games of the series, but the 21-year-old is at his best when he breaks down the defense with penetration into the lane. In Game 4, the Nets put a bigger defender on him -- 6-5 Kerry Kittles -- which seemed to discourage Parker's aggressiveness at getting inside and keep him out on the perimeter. And with his outside jumper not falling, he became ineffective.
"Tony has to do a better job of staying involved in the game and picking and choosing his moments," said Spurs center David Robinson, "and I don't think he did a very good job of that tonight. He's so talented, he's got to understand, he plays a big role for us so he has to come in there and make good things happen. You don't make good things happen by necessarily standing out there and taking ill-advised jump shots."
Observed Parker, "The ball just didnít want to go tonight."
To be fair, Parker wasn't the only Spur who struggled. Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen and Malik Rose were a combined 3-of-27, and the team shot just .289 overall, third worst in NBA Finals history. But considering how instrumental Parker has been all series -- particularly in the two San Antonio victories -- in such a close game, his performance hurt the most.
Popovich said afterward that "at this point in the season, you're not very interested in any sort of moral victory or silver linings," but for Parker, there may be one in the wake of an ugly Game 4: Despite his difficulties, his coach was confident going to him in the clutch.
Nets coach Byron Scott agreed with Popovich's call.
"As a coach, Tony Parker is your starter," Scott said. "This guy has done a heck of a job all series long. I know Speedy gave them a big-time lift and that's what the role players coming off the bench are supposed to do. That's what they supply.
"I would have done the same thing as Pop -- brought Tony back."