With less than 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's marquee (well, only) contest, a Western Conference finals rematch with the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker hit an unlikely 3-pointer while falling toward the baseline on a scrambling, unsettled play that knotted the often ugly game at 84 apiece. After the Thunder promptly turned it over on their next possession, the Spurs had the ball with 5.9 seconds remaining and a chance to win it, and coach Gregg Popovich went back to his triggerman.
He was rewarded.
"Pop set up a play for me coming off a screen, and I was wide open, and I knocked down the shot," Parker told TNT's David Aldridge after hitting the game-winning basket to give the Spurs an 86-84 win in their home opener.
And a neat little play it was.
As Boris Diaw prepared to inbound the ball, guarded by Serge Ibaka, Parker and Stephen Jackson curled toward the baseline, bringing their men near the hoop while Danny Green cut above the 3-point arc around an attempted Tim Duncan screen to receive the pass. After a momentary slip and stumble, Green gathered. Meanwhile, Parker worked his way along the baseline, getting directly underneath the basket with five players — Duncan, Kendrick Perkins, Russell Westbrook, Jackson and Kevin Durant — all stacked up in front of him and looking at the basketball.
With no one keeping an eye on him, Parker darted to the weak side of the floor, where he could now come off a pair of screens from Diaw and Duncan. (The Big Fundamental's screen was, you might say, a bit too "fundamentally sound," in a Kevin Garnett sort of way.) Green swung the ball, Parker went left away from the screened-off Perkins and let it fly from a step inside the arc with 1.4 seconds left. The jumper traveled just over the outstretched right arm of the too-late-in-closing-out Ibaka, splashing through with triple-zeroes on the clock to send the AT&T Center faithful home happy.
Parker finished with 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting, dished 11 assists against just one turnover, and grabbed three rebounds in nearly 35 minutes of floor time.
After the game, TNT commentator Charles Barkley asked a succinct question: "What in the hell was Russell Westbrook doing on this play?" His colleague, Kenny Smith, offered a similarly concise answer: "He followed the ball and not his man."
While he was active on the glass (eight rebounds, three of which were offensive) and kicked in 18 points, the Thunder point guard struggled mightily throughout Thursday night, missing 15 of his 21 field-goal attempts, posting six turnovers against just five assists and, as Smith said, falling asleep on defense at the game's most critical juncture.
For the second straight night, Duncan was the Spurs' leading scorer, notching 20 points on 10-for-15 shooting, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. As Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News noted, the 36-year-old future Hall of Famer has posted back-to-back 20-point games in the season's first two contests after not managing consecutive 20-point efforts all last season.
Three-time reigning NBA scoring champion Durant led the Thunder with 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, five assists and four turnovers. New import Kevin Martin, brought to the team last weekend in the trade that sent Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets, came off the bench in his OKC debut, chipping in 15 points on 4-for-10 shooting, including a 3-for-6 mark from beyond the arc, and five assists in nearly 33 minutes.
Neither team looked especially sharp offensively — the Spurs, who've led the league in long-range accuracy two years running, went just 5 for 19 from deep, while Oklahoma City managed a rough 36.7 percent mark on shots inside the 3-point line, turned it over 18 times and frequently seemed to stagnate in their half-court sets — but thanks to Parker's final-minute five-point flurry, San Antonio had just enough to win.
After the game, Aldridge asked Parker what he feels is the most important thing the Spurs need as they seek to improve upon their 2-0 start to the season.
"To stay healthy," Parker said. "I like our chances this year. Our young guys got a lot of experience and we play good basketball right now, so hopefully we stay healthy and play good at the end of the season."
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