In the San Antonio Spurs' first game of the 2011-12 postseason, All-Star point guard Tony Parker showed why he's deserving of the top-five MVP talk he'd received throughout much of the season, expertly working the controls of Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich's offense to pace the top-seeded Spurs to a 106-91 win on Sunday. Utah just had no answer for Parker's pitch-perfect play, which saw him score 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting, create another 19 points with his eight assists, get to the foul line 10 times and turn the ball over just twice in 36 1/2 minutes of work.
For Utah to have a chance to take Wednesday night's Game 2, salvage a split in San Antonio and head back to Salt Lake even in this first-round series, the Jazz will have to slow Parker down ... and they're looking to do so forcefully. From Paul J. Weber at The Associated Press:
[...] Jazz point guard Devin Harris said his counterpart will likely be in for a ''hard foul or two'' after Parker slashed into Utah's big and bruising frontcourt without hesitation.
It wasn't tough talk from Harris, who had complimented Parker in the same breath. Jazz center Al Jefferson said the goal was ''not to hurt him or nothing like that,'' but rather to dissuade Parker from barreling into the paint and punishing Utah with either an acrobatic layup or kicking out to a 3-point shooter.
''The playoffs is physical. We just can't let him feel like he can come down in that paint any time he ready,'' Jefferson said.
If Parker has any fear of being battered by Utah's big, bad backline, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News sure didn't see it; according to McDonald, when told of the Jazz's plan, the Spurs' point man "did his best to stifle a yawn."
"It's not the first time somebody has said that," Parker said.
After Parker ran unfettered for 28 points and eight assists in Game 1, he would have been almost insulted if nobody from Utah promised him bodily harm in tonight's Game 2 at the AT&T Center.
"My answer's still going to be the same," Parker said. "I'm going to stay in attack mode."
That seems like a pretty reasonable strategy, considering how summarily Parker tore Utah up in Game 1.
He was surgical in the screen-and-roll game, going 6 for 6 for 13 points when he took it himself off the pick, according to MySynergySports.com, and kept Jazz defenders Harris and Jamaal Tinsley off-balance all afternoon; as McDonald notes, the only time Utah successfully impeded Parker on Sunday was "a minute and a half in[to the game], when Harris accidentally clipped the heel of Parker's shoe, forcing it off his foot." The next time Utah flusters Parker, it'll be the first time.
Plus, the more resources Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin commits to slowing Parker, the more likely there are to be open looks for safety-valve spot-up shooters like Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson or Danny Green, or clear spaces for Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair around the basket as their defenders sag off to stall Parker's penetration. That's the problem when you face the Spurs — as soon as you seal up one crack in the dam, the water starts rushing in somewhere else. Before long, you're soaked. (For clear evidence of this, check out Joon Kim's great breakdown of the Spurs' "weak" offensive action at NBA Playbook, a fluid, constantly evolving motion set that gives San Antonio seemingly limitless ways to produce high-percentage looks at the basket in half-court play.)
One option for Corbin might be to try shifting Harris or Tinsley over to cover whichever two-guard's sharing the floor with Parker for stretches and let second-year Utah guard Gordon Hayward take a shot at using his 6-foot-8 frame and long arms to make life a bit more difficult for the Frenchman. If Utah can have more on-ball success on Parker before he gets around the pick or reaches the lane, that could slow the San Antonio draw-and-kick game without having to try to get all goon-y. If they can't, though, it might be another long night full of quick-as-a-hiccup drives, trailing defenders and taking the ball out of the basket for the Jazz.