By Jeff McDonald, Staff writer
Three weeks to the day after limping off with a sprained left ankle, Tony Parker was back on the AT&T Center floor Friday.
If the Spurs’ All-Star was expecting to ease back into game action, the Utah Jazz had other plans.
When Marvin Williams’ corner 3-pointer at the fourth-quarter horn forced overtime, Parker knew he was in line for a long night.
The extra period turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
Shaking off a tentative start, Parker scored 13 of his 22 points after the third quarter to help carry the Spurs to a 104-97 victory.
“The first half, I was hesitant,” Parker said. “The second half I felt comfortable. In overtime, I felt like I never left the team.”
The Spurs went 6-2 without Parker, who was injured March 1 against Sacramento, and extended their lead over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference standings to three games with their leading scorer and assist man shelved.
If Friday’s tug-of-war with a 34-35 Utah team fighting for its playoff life proved anything, it’s that the next few games reintegrating Parker could be a big assignment for the Spurs.
Coach Gregg Popovich fretted about as much before tipoff.
“It’s not just Tony,” Popovich said. “I’m more concerned about the team getting used to him again.”
After the Spurs (53-16) held on for a defense-fueled win that got ugly at times, Popovich pronounced himself pleased enough with his team in its first night back whole.
The Spurs got 19 points and 16 rebounds from Tim Duncan, 21 points from Kawhi Leonard and 10 rebounds and four blocks from Tiago Splitter to earn their fourth straight win.
Expecting to play 20 or 25 minutes, Parker logged nearly 37 in his return.
“It went better than I thought,” Popovich said. “I thought Tony was a little bit shy in the first half. He was just trying to feel his way a little bit. But when the game got tight, he was Tony Parker.”
With the victory, Popovich became the 12th coach in NBA history to claim 900 career victories, and the second to record them all with a single team. Former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is the other.
If more of the previous 899 wins were like Friday’s, Popovich might not have survived to coach his 17th season.
The Spurs’ first quarter with Parker in three weeks netted 18 points, with only one basket in the final 6:02. At halftime, the Spurs had matched a season low with 38 points.
Unlike in a 107-83 loss at Minnesota on March 12, however, the Spurs at least played defense and trailed by only three.
Struggling with turnovers again (18, leading to 21 Utah points), the Spurs were behind for most of regulation. Leonard’s dunk with 10:03 to go gave them their first lead since late in the first quarter, 68-67.
When Parker hit a pair of foul shots for a 90-87 edge with 10.1 seconds left, the Spurs appeared in complete control.
Then, Manu Ginobili capped a 1-for-8 first four quarters by losing Williams in the corner. The Jazz forward swished a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to send the game to OT.
“A terrible mistake,” said Ginobili, who would redeem himself with a go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime.
Though Parker’s return was the story of the game, Leonard was perhaps the Spurs’ star.
The second-year small forward added eight rebounds to his third 20-point game of the season, going 9 of 14 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Leonard’s pull-up jumper with 1:50 left in OT gave the Spurs a 100-95 lead and all the breathing room they’d need.
“He’s a stud,” Popovich said. “He’s not afraid to shoot the ball. He knows he has license to play.”
Back in the driver’s seat Friday, Parker took his time pushing the pedal down.
A patented tear-drop late in the fourth was perhaps the most Parker-like he’d looked all game.
The rhythm will come in time. So will the legs. For now, Parker was satisfied to take Friday for what it was, a night in which he was glad to work overtime.
“I’m just happy to be back,” Parker said. Rest of the story: Spurs Nation