By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO — Gregg Popovich knows a way to slow Tony Parker down. He sat him down for 19 days smack in the middle of the season.
It’s not quite that easy for the Trail Blazers, who have to figure job one in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals is to stop the Spurs’ All-Star point guard from running amok as he did in the series opener.
While all of the very deep San Antonio lineup washed over them like a sandcastle at the beach, it was Parker’s 33 points on 13-for-24 shooting that set the pace and kept the Blazers on their heels all night long.
Parker attacked Portland running the fast break and repeatedly pulled up to knock in mid-range jumpers as the Blazers’ defense concentrated on not letting him get to the rim.
According to the Blazers’ statistics, Parker shot 5-for-5 in the transition game and 8-for-12 when he was able to get into the paint.
“He’s going to get there sometimes,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That’s what he does. We had him 5-for-12 on midrange shots. That’s a number we can live with. But 5-for-5 in transition, that’s a number we have to be better with.
“We have to keep the ball out of the middle as much as we can. The more we can keep him out of the paint, that takes away opportunities for him and his teammates.”
Those were opportunities that might have have come for the Spurs once more this springtime if Popovich hadn’t made the bold decision back on Feb. 10, following a loss at Detroit, to simply shut down his trigger man and leading scorer for nearly three weeks.
“I thought he was more mentally tired than physically tired,” Popovich explained. “He needed time away. No more shootarounds, no more game plans, the whole ball of wax. He just needed to shut down from it all.”
What looks like a perfectly logical move with a 31-year-old who is expected to carry so much of the offensive burden, was not exactly one that Parker swallowed easily. After all, Popovich did not take the same tack with 38-year-old Tim Duncan or 36-year-old Manu Ginobili.
“I [thought] it was too long,” Parker said. “At the same time, I trust Pop. He did a great job with me, Timmy, with Manu, managing us during the year to make sure we stay fresh for the playoffs. You can see the results.”
Including his Game 7 close-out performance in the first round over Dallas, Parker has rung up back-to-back 30-point games after hitting that level just three times during the entire regular season and appears energized.
The Spurs frequently ran Parker off picks against the Blazers and got him the open looks at the basket.
“I’m supposed to provide support,” said Portland center Robin Lopez, who stayed at home to guard the paint. “We’re encouraging him to take mid-range shots. Tony hit a few. In the best of all worlds, we’d be forcing everybody baseline.”
Parker was guarded during the game by Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews. While the preference for Stotts may be to use the length of the 6-foot-9 Batum on Parker, making that shift would force the Blazers to be undersized in their other matchups against Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
“If you take Nic off Leonard, it opens things up for Kawhi and shifts everything down,” Stotts said. “But we’ve done things like that in the past. We have to be able to make those changes and subsequent adjustments.”
Which leaves the dilemma of how to slow Parker?
“You have to be physical with him, like Wes did at the end of the game,” Batum said. “Wes pushed him fullcourt. That’s what you have to do.”