It's no coincidence that the San Antonio Spurs regained control of Game 5 of their second-round NBA playoff series right around the time that Tony Parker started slicing up the Golden State Warriors defense. He's the center of the Spurs' newer, faster, more pick-and-roll-oriented universe—and has been for some time now.
Parker managed just three points on four shots in the second quarter, as the Warriors made a run to close the gap to 54-51 going into halftime. Golden State seemed to be on its way to eking out another win on the road, even with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both struggling mightily with their respective shots.
Then Parker came out like a scoring fiend, and before long, the Dubs were back in the dumps. In the third quarter, he found Tim Duncan for a layup, hit a pair of jumpers, attacked the basket for a layup and shot four free throws, three of which he converted.
He helped San Antonio put away the game for good in the fourth, setting up Kawhi Leonard for a three and hitting two quick shots during a run that saw the Spurs' lead more than double—from eight to 18 points—during a span of just over two minutes.
By the time he was done, Parker had racked up 25 points (on 9-of-16 from the field and 7-of-10 from the line) and 10 assists, and the Spurs had wrapped up an impressive 109-91 win over the upstart Warriors. Now, San Antonio will take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 in Oakland, where the Spurs outplayed the home team in Games 3 and 4.
They certainly wouldn't be in this position without Parker's stellar play to carry them through. In five games against Golden State, the feisty Frenchman has averaged 24.4 points on 46.5 percent shooting (37.5 percent from three), with 5.8 assists and 7.2 free-throw attempts per game. This, after contributing 22.3 (on 49.3 percent shooting), 6.5 and 5.5 against the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1.
Not that such productivity is out of the ordinary for Parker. He turned in arguably the finest campaign of his NBA career in 2012-13—20.3 points on 52.2 percent shooting, with 7.6 assists in 32.9 minutes—for a 58-win team, but he still finished just sixth in MVP voting. He's also had his fair share of postseason successes, even beyond his NBA Finals MVP showing in 2007.
With Duncan awaiting midnight like a 37-year-old Cinderella and Manu Ginobili clearly on the decline, Parker's excellence is more important than ever to the Spurs' hopes for playoff survival. In recent years, head coach/franchise guru Gregg Popovich has, with the help of general manager R.C. Buford, overseen San Antonio's evolution from an inside-out, half-court offensive outfit anchored by Duncan to an uptempo, guard-oriented, pick-and-roll-heavy attack that takes full advantage of the French point guard's quickness with the ball in his hands.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the results have yet to live up to those enjoyed during Duncan's heyday. San Antonio has yet to crack the NBA Finals since making the switch, though they came agonizingly close in 2012 before the Oklahoma City Thunder took control of the Western Conference finals.
This year's edition might finally have the necessary ingredients to complete the proverbial passing of the torch from Duncan to Parker in a more official fashion. The Spurs ranked third in defensive efficiency during the regular season, surrendering just 99.2 points per 100 possessions, after checking in 11th in that category in each of the previous two seasons.
That has plenty to do with the shifting of pieces around Parker. The majority of San Antonio's top role players are under the age of 30. The blossoming of Tiago Splitter (28) into a competent frontcourt partner for Timmy has lent San Antonio the leeway to play big and protect the rim. Kawhi Leonard (21) and Danny Green (25) have also provided a measure of athleticism and pesky hands on the defensive end not seen in the Alamo City since Bruce Bowen last suited up.
In something other than a goofy bow tie, that is.
Those players, with Pop's guidance, have spearheaded San Antonio's return to the upper crust of NBA defenses.
An echelon from which the Spurs offense hasn't descended in years, thanks in large part to Tony Parker. It's that very combination of youth and experience, of offense and defense, of skill and will, that makes San Antonio such a threat to win the West, especially now that the Thunder are all but out of the mix.
Without Parker, there would hardly be such a perfect balance on which the Spurs could rely. Nor would San Antonio have the upper hand against surprising Golden State, with a matchup with the imposing (but beatable) Memphis Grizzlies likely awaiting the Spurs in the Western Conference finals.