Parker sparks Spurs to victory over Jazz
SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t shy about criticizing point guard Tony Parker after last year’s playoff loss to Memphis.
“Pop was mad at me when he saw me with the (French) national team in London,” Parker said. “He said I played harder for the national team. I told him I’d have a good year and play with a different attitude. He challenged me.”
As long as Parker continues to perform like he did in Sunday’s playoff opener against Utah, leading all players with 28 points and eight assists in an easy 106-91 victory, he’ll get nothing but praise from his long-time coach.
“He’s the reason we’ve been successful thus far this season,” Popovich said. “He’s had a wonderful year, and he did another good job.”
Parker was one of 11 players to score for the red-hot Spurs, who have won 11 consecutive games and 25 of their last 28 dating back to mid-March.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is 7 p.m. EST on Wednesday at the AT&T Center. San Antonio has won four of five meetings with the Jazz this season.
It was a far cry from last year’s postseason opener, in which the Spurs were manhandled by Memphis in a 101-98 defeat. Indeed, Sunday’s game was an extension of the string of blowouts with which they closed the regular season.
The Jazz took an early 11-6 advantage behind five points from point guard Devin Harris. But as they’ve done so many times during this strike-shortened season, the Spurs gradually wore Utah down with depth and heavy doses of their All-Star point guard.
San Antonio’s bench outscored the starters 22-13 during the opening 16 minutes, including 17 in a row spanning the first and second quarters.
“They don’t just play guys,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “However many guys (Popovich) has on his roster, that’s how deep he is.”
Manu Ginobili started the stretch with a two-handed dunk in transition. He added another jam early in the second, driving unchallenged to the rim after pump-faking at the three-point line to put the Spurs up 32-24.
Utah answered with six consecutive points, including a spinning layup from Derrick Favors that brought the Jazz to within two.
That’s when Parker took over, scoring or assisting on 19 of the next 22 points as San Antonio took a 54-47 halftime lead. Parker did most of his damage via penetration, driving and dishing off or finishing craftily around the rim.
His over-the-shoulder pass set Tim Duncan up for an easy dunk. Parker’s three-point play later in the half put the Spurs up by nine. Parker finished with 16 points and six assists in 19 first-half minutes, not far off his regular-season averages of 18.3 and 7.7.
“Tony gave us the lead in the first half, where almost nobody else was playing well,” Ginobili said. “He was impressive.”
Danny Green became the 10th Spur to score early in the third, driving for a transition layup off Kawhi Leonard’s steal and assist to give the Spurs their largest lead, 66-55.
The Jazz responded with six unanswered points, at which Duncan turned back the clock to his younger, MVP years. He looked more like a player in his mid-20s than mid-30s as he unleashed a towering drive-and-dunk over Jefferson. Duncan was more subdued on his next move, restoring San Antonio’s lead to eight with a vintage left-handed scoop shot.
The future Hall of Famer reached double-figures for the quarter several possessions later with a simple flip shot. He would finish with 17 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“Timmy’s just solid,” Popovich said. “He’s going to do what we need done down on the post.”
The Spurs held off another minor run from Utah before moving ahead by 15, 85-70, with successive three-pointers from Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner. Jackson scored 14 of San Antonio’s 44 bench points.
San Antonio’s lead never dipped below eight during the fourth quarter.
NOTES: Backup Spurs center Tiago Splitter did not return after spraining his left wrist in the second quarter. His status was not available at game’s end. … The Jazz have lost six of their last seven playoff openers.