OAKLAND, Calif. – Oh, yeah. The other guard.
Tony Parker – the name is slightly familiar – made his presence known in the Western Conference semifinals Friday night after two games of talk of Stephen Curry as the new force at the point and Klay Thompson as the perfect backcourt running mate.
Parker has been to the playoffs once or twice before and insisted the Curry-Thompson chatter, practically a glow that followed the Warriors from San Antonio back to Oracle Arena, did not inspire him. The other talk, that he listened to.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told Parker to be more aggressive with his shot, and that seemed like a pretty good time for Parker to start caring about a reaction to the first two games and a 1-1 series. Popovich spoke, Parker responded, the Spurs won Game 3, and the Warriors had a new problem on their hand. One of the best point guards in the world is dialed in again.
Parker went from 43 shots and 41.9 percent the first two outings to 25 points in the first half alone while making 11 of his 14 attempts and, finally, to a game-high 32 points in all while going 13-for-23 from the field to lead the Spurs to a 102-92 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues Sunday afternoon at Oracle. More importantly, he went from the Parker the Spurs played to the Parker the Spurs need to offset the play of Curry and Thompson.
“I think sometimes he gets a little bit obsessed about driving it, getting to the rim,” Popovich said. “When he does that, he turns down jumpers and he forgets to play with teammates. But when he’s like tonight, like he’s played most of the season, he’ll stop, shoot the open jumper, he’ll get his share of assists, and that’s what we need him to be. He’s a scoring point guard, but he has to do it with a jump shot as well as a drive. He did that tonight.”
It was a potential turning-point night on several fronts for the backcourts. Cory Joseph delivered solid minutes at backup point guard that proved important with Parker staying fresh while logging 35 minutes, and especially important because Popovich thought Parker got tired two days before in San Antonio. Curry sprained his left ankle again, with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and stayed in, but was clearly limited as the “Curry Ankle Watch” begins anew, with no immediate prognosis after the game and an update expected at practice Saturday.
Parker, though, was the most significant development of all.
“I was just trying to be aggressive, watch film of the first two games,” he said. “They always try to push me left. That’s the shot they were giving me. In warmups, that was almost the only shot I practiced, going left. Make sure I knocked down that shot. Once I make that shot, it opens up everything. I was just determined to make sure I take good shots and be aggressive the whole game.”
Thompson said Parker was doing the same thing as before, “just taking shots at a higher rate.” Which was partly true. More shots, yes, but also a different attitude going in, instructed by Popovich more than inspired by some perceived slight against the Curry-Thompson limelight.