Tony Parker's response to Warriors as quiet as it was effective
OAKLAND -- For two games, so much attention had been paid to Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Splash Brothers. The best shooting backcourt of all-time, according to coach Mark Jackson. "Call my bluff," Jackson had said after Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal against the San Antonio Spurs. The way Curry and Thompson had been playing and shooting, no one really could.
But that changed Friday night, when the series moved west and Spurs point guard Tony Parker reminded everyone that this series isn't all about the Golden State backcourt. Parker, who will turn 31 next week, was directing the Spurs' offense and making clutch postseason shots when the Warriors' young duo was in high school. He can still do it as well as ever, as he proved with a 32-point performance on 13-for-23 shooting that fueled the Spurs' 102-92 win and gave San Antonio a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Splash Brothers, on the other hand, had a hard time throwing it in the ocean in Game 3 -- Curry and Thompson shot a combined 12-for-37. For the moment, at least, consider the Warriors' bluff called.
Another player on another team might have taken particular pleasure in quieting all the Curry-Thompson love, but Parker is not that kind of player and the business-like Spurs are not that kind of team. Asked if he was motivated at all by the attention the Warriors' pair had received, Parker smiled. "No, not at all," he said. "I've played for the Spurs a long time. I don't care about that. That kind of stuff doesn't motivate me."
No one would have blamed Parker if he had been stewing over all the Curry-Thompson talk. Thompson, 6-foot-7, had been credited with defending him well in the first two games of the series, when the 6-2 Parker had shot a combined 18-for-44 from the floor. And Parker could have taken it personally when many observers said that Curry, who averaged 33 points in the first two games, should have made this year's All-Star team, which included Parker. But instead of concerning himself with outside chatter, Parker did what smart, mature players do -- he studied film.
He found that the Warriors were determined to force him left at all costs, so he adjusted. "That's the shot they were giving me," he said. "In warm-ups, that was almost the only shot I practiced, to make sure I knocked down that shot. Once I make that shot, it opens up everything."
The Warriors, meanwhile, were left to lament an opportunity missed. With Oracle Arena once again turned into Roaracle, they couldn't really match the crowd's electricity and enthusiasm. "We did not have the same energy (as in the first two games)," Jackson said. We did not get after it the same way. We did not have the same sense of urgency. That's the disappointing part."
Thompson put some of the blame on himself for Parker's big night. "I wasn't physical enough with him," Thompson said. "That's an adjustment we'll have to make. But he just hit shots. You can't take away everything he does. We tried to take away his opportunities around the rim. He just hit some tough shots, but we can do a better job. I can do a better job."
The Warriors might have even bigger concerns for Sunday's Game 4. Curry rolled his troublesome left ankle late in the fourth quarter, and though he convinced Jackson to let him stay in the game, he was limping noticeably afterwards and his status for Sunday was uncertain. If he's sidelined, sixth man Jarrett Jack will step into the starting lineup. "We'll give him the basketball and trust that we will be just fine," Jackson said. After Jack's struggles on Friday, which included over-dribbling on several possessions and a late-game turnover that helped stifle the Warriors' last-ditch comeback attempt, Golden State fans probably aren't feeling quite so trusting.
But Curry or no Curry, containing Parker will be the Warriors' biggest concern. Spurs coach told Parker that he had even more freedom than usual to shoot, partly because with his backcourt mate Manu Ginobili struggling with his shot (he was four-for-11 on Friday) the Spurs needed his points. "We made shots and they didn't have as good a night shooting the ball," Popovich said. "Sometimes it's as simple as that." Of course, it's not that simple. The Warriors' poor shooting was partly the result of the Spurs' improved three-point defense. Golden State shot only six-for-19 from beyond the arc. If the Warriors don't make at least double that total, they have a hard time winning.
They'll also have a hard time winning if Parker continues to be the best guard on the court, which, the first two games notwithstanding, is usually the case. Not that he'd ever point that out. "It doesn't matter to me anymore," he said. "I don't pay attention to [lists of] the top five point guards. They always forget about me, anyway."
Then he smiled, because he knew he had just reminded everyone how good Tony Parker can be.