The San Antonio Spurs Can Feel Tony Parker's Pain
Tony Parker and Steve Nash collided in the San Antonio backcourt. The Spurs guard appeared to take the brunt of the hit and stayed down for more than 20 seconds.
His Phoenix counterpart extended a hand.
Parker wiped a drop of blood from his nose, but it wasn't his. Instead, Nash needed the medical attention.
His nose bled until referees ruled him unfit to stay on the court. He finished his gutsy 31-point performance with one final trey to keep the Suns close.
With a steady diet of Tim Dunan, Parker, and Ginobili, San Antonio dispatched Phoenix like some pesky house fly.
This was Game One of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals, the toughest series the Spurs faced en route to a fourth championship.
The high-scoring opening affair seemed to sum up the Suns' deficiencies against their nemesis. No matter what Nash did, Parker was better. Nash totaled 31 points with eight assists, but Parker poured in 32, parading to the hoop at will.
Then, the 67-win Dallas Mavericks and 60-win Suns constituted the Spurs' chief challengers for West supremacy. No one else appeared fit to tackle the task.
The Spurs still scared the daylights out of teams with superior talent. They could defend as if their meal tickets depended on every stop and boasted two electrifying backcourt stars as unpredictable and indefensible as the Texas weather.
The score of Game One of the 2005 Western Conference Finals between the two outfits? Spurs 121, Suns 114.
Duncan and Parker terrorized the defenseless Suns, at times outgunning them at their own fast-break game.
Sunday afternoon, the teams reprised their one-sided rivalary. Phoenix could compete and sometimes dominate regular season matches, but San Antonio triumphed when it mattered most.
Luck and idiocy have always played a role.
Joe Johnson missed most of the five-game 2005 joust. The league suspended Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw after leaving the bench in 2007 but not Duncan for doing the same two quarters earlier. The Suns blew a 16-point lead and lost Game One in 2008 in double overtime.
Amare Stoudemire could have sealed that contest with a 20-footer. Instead, he steamrolled a stationary Kurt Thomas, picking up his sixth foul. That boneheaded play set up a remarkable one.
Moments later, Duncan squared up behind the three-point line and drained his first triple of the season to force another five minutes.
The latest bit of fortuity for the Spurs? Jason Richardson blew a wide-open dunk late Sunday afternoon that would have knotted the score at 107.
The Suns lost again to their tormentors, but the afternoon did not feel like a flashback to 2005, 2007, or 2008.
The Spurs' fortunes have changed, and an ailing Parker highlights the team's woebegone state of affairs.
San Antonio won 113-110--beating an opponent ahead of them in the standings for the second time this week--and remained in seventh place.
The Spurs are closer to ninth place than first or second. This was never the case in the championship years.
Parker delivered a pedestrian but helpful 16-point effort while Nash sleepwalked to his season averages of 18 points and 11 assists.
There were some reminders of playoff series past. Nash trimmed the deficit to one with an off-balance trey late in the fourth quarter.
Duncan's cerebral play again proved the difference between the two frontcourts.
Stoudemire went berserk on the Spurs with 41 points.
Everything else feels different.
Parker has not been his explosive self, and the Spurs have fought the worst identity crisis of the Duncan era.
Coach Gregg Popovich wanted his ultra-talented roster to coalesce enough to return to the stingy defensive form of year's past.
Friday night in Houston, the Rockets led the Spurs 59-41 at the half. What defense?
The personnel also promised to deliver more offense than ever before. The Spurs average more than 100 points per game, but those numbers lie.
Never before has a Popovich team struggled so much to execute in crunch time.
The Spurs choked away a 10-point lead several weeks ago at the Rose Garden. Brandon Roy missed the contest, but the Blazers still swept the season series.
The Utah Jazz also completed the franchise's first season sweep of the Spurs since Duncan entered the league in 1997.
Parker's injury-riddled season explains the dropoff better than anything else can. At 27, the French guard is entering the prime of his career.
The Spurs appear more well-done than burned prime rib.
The latest ailment might be humorous under different circumstances. This time, food poisoning sidelined the former Finals MVP instead of a hip flexor, plantar fasciitis, or a sprained ankle.
He hurts, and the Spurs can feel his pain.
When Ginobli and Parker fail to wreak havoc around the rim, San Antonio looks like a .500 ball club headed for the lottery.
There is no reason to entertain the Spurs as Secaucus-bound yet. They can still make a postseason push and surge into the top half of the West playoff picture.
The second and third seeds remain a mathematical possibility. However, the Spurs will need the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets to belly up to surpass them. Neither club wants to falter now.
The Mavs have won seven in a row since the trade that landed Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in Dallas. The Nuggets almost beat the defending champion Lakers for the third time this year.
Maybe Richardson's botched dunk is a sign of things to come. With 24 losses, one more than in their last championship year, the Spurs cannot afford to be picky.
Of the remaining foes, 18 own winning records. San Antonio will play eight back-to-back sets, more than any other team in the playoff hunt out West.
The Spurs could once count on Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli to carry them through demanding stretches.
One-third of that trio is now hobbled, a shell of his All-Star self, and the Spurs don't often look like $80 million.
The Big Easy beckons the underachieving, frustrated squad tonight.
The New Orleans Hornets have managed to stay afloat sans Chris Paul, and they will want to avoid a series sweep.
The Hornets also visit the AT&T Center on Friday.
If Ginobli has played more like the Ginobili of old, Parker has regressed. A myriad foot problems and a hip ailment have sabataged his agility and his finishes in traffic.
Parker abused Nash and anyone else who tried to slow him for most of those 2005 and 2007 series.
Even in the 2008 playoffs, Parker led a game-three rout with 41 points. The Spurs led the series 3-0 and won in five.
Sunday, Parker and Nash danced again, even if they did not confront each other much in one-on-one situations.
Mike D'Antoni would put Nash on Bruce Bowen or another marginal scorer to hide him on the defensive end. Alvin Gentry has found a way to do the same.
Parker stumbled across the dance floor again on his swollen feet. Thanks to George Hill, Duncan, Dejuan Blair, and clutch free throw shooting by Ginobili, Parker did not have to carry the team during any significant stretches of the contest.
The Spurs still own the Suns, and maybe the confused, angry bunch from the Alamo City can take heart and find solace in that.
A look at the standings provides no such relief.
If the Spurs topple the Hornets tonight, they could move up a slot or two.
In 2007, the third seed was all but locked up by the end of February.
Now, the team must fight just to secure a postseason berth.
Parker hurts. So do the Spurs.
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