After four quarters of basketball with the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz all locked up at 90, Spurs guard Tony Parker, who returned from injury revealed when he felt his best, overtime.
"I felt like I never left the team," said Parker (22 points, 5 assists) of his play in overtime as he led his team to a 104-97 victory on Friday at the AT&T Center.
Parker had help in the overtime and the fourth quarter, and that help was provided by Kawhi Leonard (21 points, 8 rebounds).
“If I’m open I’m going to shoot ball,” said Leonard of his clutch play in overtime. Parker and Leonard combined to score 11 of the Spurs’ 14 points in the extra period.
“He’s not afraid to the shoot the ball,” added Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich of Leonard. “We went to him a couple of times down the stretch in regulation and he came through. He knows he has the license to play.”
Tim Duncan (19 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks) and Danny Green (15 points) were also key in the Spurs’ win, as Manu Ginobili had what he called a “terrible game,” while Mo Williams (23 points) and Al Jefferson (18 points) just continued to find answers against the Spurs possession after possession.
Here are five keys to the Spurs’ game against the Jazz in which they earned their 53rd win of the season.
1. “I’m happy to be back and hopefully we can keep this going.” – Tony Parker
In the first half, Parker was pacing himself and wasn’t as aggressive as he could be. In the second half, he morphed into the player he was prior to his injury as he scored 16 of his 22 points in the final 29 minutes of the game.
Parker was hitting tear drops, jumpers off of screens, and even getting into the lane and finding his teammates. “It felt good,” said Parker of his ankle that kept him out for eight games afterward.
“The game got tight in regulation and in overtime obviously, he was Tony Parker.” Said Coach Popovich after, “Like I said, up until the time he got hurt there wasn’t a point guard in the league playing better than Tony Parker.”
“We’ve been waiting for him to get back,” said Spurs forward Stephen Jackson of Parker’s return.
“When we needed him,” added Ginobili, “he made a few (key baskets).”
2. Parker wants Leonard to continue improving with him back
“I’m not thinking about what type of pressure is on the line at the time,” said Leonard of his clutch play in the crucial minutes of the game, “I’m just trying to get the team the win by getting open spots and shooting the ball.”
With 1:06 left in the game and both teams tied at 85, Leonard found himself in the corner for the go-ahead 3-pointer that would put the Spurs ahead 88-85. In overtime, Leonard hit a big 3-pointer to open the five minutes, and then with the Spurs already up three, he hit a fade away jump shot to give his team the edge.
“He’s improving every day and hopefully he can do the same thing even when I am playing,” added Parker after the game of Leonard. “That’s going to help us when we are in the playoffs.”
3. Duncan passes Shaq
During the game, Duncan passed Shaquille O’Neal on the NBA All-time rebound list.
Duncan, who posted a 19-16-5-2 stat line was responsible for holding Paul Millsap to 11 points on 13 shots and Jefferson to 18 points on 23 shot attempts. Duncan’s defense in holding down the paint also limited the Jazz to never scoring more than 25 points in a quarter.
Duncan offensively was the consistent force in the paint as he made 11 of his 13 free throws, made a dunk in transition, and even dished a few assists for productive plays to his teammates.
4. Pop earns win 900
The Spurs shot 46% from the field, made 8-of-20 three pointers, and had 18 turnovers, but all in all, Popovich viewed the game as one of the best of the season.
“I thought it was a great game,” said Popovich of the win. “I thought the guys fought hard. I thought we grounded it out.”
Popovich also earned his 900th win with the victory, but before the game he stated clearly the win would mean “nothing” to him.
After the game, Jackson revealed that the team had a cake prepared for Popovich in honor of his achievement and Popovich threw a piece in Jackson’s face. Jackson and his teammates were proud of their coach even though Popovich only sets his sights on one achievement, an NBA Championship.
“I’m happy for Pop,” said Jackson, “he deserves it. I’m happy to say I’ve played for him.”
Parker also added that getting win 900 was also reason why the night was a big win.
5. Manu’s “terrible” game
“Hopefully it’s just one of those games,” said Ginobili after the game where he finished shooting 2-of-9, 1-of-5 from distance, five points, four rebounds, two steals, and five turnovers for just five points.
In the locker room, Ginobili mentioned that the last play where the Spurs gave up a 3-pointer to Marvin Williams to force overtime was his fault. Ginobili said he blacked out, double teamed Jefferson, and was late reacting to Williams in the corner.
Spurs visit Harden and Co. Sunday
The Spurs’ next opponent will begin the stretch where they’ll face five consecutive playoff teams as they will travel to Houston to face the Rockets.
Where San Antonio stands
Here are a few stats showing where the Spurs stand in certain categories in the NBA.
Season record: 53-16
Home Record: 30-4
Vs. the Western Conference: 30-12
Winning Streak: 4 games