HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — He’s the one who raised the stakes before the series and called Russell Westbrook out as the player they would go after. He’s the one who has carried the load for the San Antonio Spurs all season, received the praise for the Spurs’ late-season surge and 20-game win streak and basked in the MVP chants from the fans at the AT&T Center.
So it’s only fitting that Tony Parker sits in the crosshairs today with the Spurs’ season on the brink, down 3-2 and headed back to Oklahoma City for a close-out game on the wrong side of the potential close out.
The same Tony Parker who was virtually unstoppable through the first two games of the Western Conference finals hasn’t been much of a factor in the past three games. He scored 34 points in the Spurs’ Game 2 win and didn’t break 30 combined in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City.
Credit the Thunder’s defensive tweaks. Scott Brooks decided to go with Thabo Sefolosha as the primary defender on Parker instead of Westbrook. But Parker also deserves some heat for not being able to do exactly what he claimed the Spurs wanted to force Westbrook to do, and that’s figure out an alternative plan when they came after the young All-Star point guard.
And it’s all in black and white where Parker is concerned. He had just six turnovers in Games 1 and 2. He has 11 in the 12 quarters since then. He made 16 shots in that Game 2 win. He’s made 16 total since then.
His aggression and direction drove the Spurs during that 20-game win streak. Now his admitted lack of aggression and inability to direct the Spurs attack has been the key component in three straight losses.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talked to Parker last summer about taking over the role as the leader of this team and playing more like he did for the French national team during the European championships. It was a bold move by a coach who has never been afraid of such things and has always had a no-nonsense relationship with Parker.
Now comes what could potentially be their defining moment, with Popovich having turned the reins of this team over to Parker. The Spurs’ season — really, their championship era — is on the line.
All eyes are rightly on Parker heading into this win-or-go-fishing Game 6. Can he deliver and reward the faith Popovich finally placed in him last summer (faith that didn’t come in the aftermath of Parker’s MVP performance in The Finals back in 2007)? For all of the things they have accomplished in their championship era, the Spurs are just 2-5 in road Game 6 contests throughout the years. When they did win on the road in Game 6, they came back and lost Game 7 at home — the last time against Dallas in the 2006 Western Conference semifinals.
The Spurs have never won a series where they have faced a road Game 6.
But if this really is Parker’s team now, his time, and he really is in his prime of his career (a claim he likes to hammer home when folks call the Spurs old), it’s up to him to deliver the Spurs out of this predicament …