SAN ANTONIO (AP)—After seeing Utah’s Deron Williams open the Western Conference finals with a career-best 34 points, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker vowed never to be so generous to his counterpart again.
Not on defense. At the dinner table.
See, the night before the series began, Parker took Williams out for some fine French dining.
“If he’s going to score like that, it’s the last time,” Parker said Monday, laughing. “I’m changing restaurants tonight—something bad.”
Parker was able to joke about Williams’ big game because his team won Game 1 on Sunday. Yet the way Williams played, and the way he powered a late comeback, has the Spurs wondering about a new strategy for Game 2 Tuesday night.
San Antonio’s plan in the opener was to focus on slowing Williams’ two prime passing options, All-Star forward Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. The Spurs followed orders so well the duo was a combined 6-of-25 through three quarters, a big reason why San Antonio led by 16.
In the fourth quarter, Williams finally decided to make himself the main scoring option. He scored 18 points in the period, helping Utah tighten things in the final minutes. The Jazz never really came close to winning, but they went away confident they can, regardless of what’s now a 17-game losing streak in San Antonio and all the Spurs’ championship experience.
“It was important that we battled back, got it under 10 and we made a game of it, we didn’t get blown off the court,” Williams said. “It’s not the end of the series. It’s one game. We feel we can play better. Hopefully we will.”
Many basketball fans remember Williams best for helping Illinois reach the NCAA title game in 2005. He had a solid rookie year, but was overshadowed by another rookie point guard, Chris Paul of the Hornets who won rookie of the year honors.
Things are changing this postseason, now that Williams has led Utah past Houston and Golden State, and has his team among the NBA’s final four. He’s averaging 17.8 points, 8.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds, solid numbers for a veteran, much a 22-year-old in his first postseason.
“He’s already become one of the best (point guards) in the league,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “He just gets more and more comfortable every month or so. He grows in intelligence, as far as what’s going on in the NBA, and his confidence level. He’s got the body and the toughness and the skills. He’s going to be one of the top point guards that we’ve had for a long time.”
Utah already had one of those in John Stockton. He was controlling the offense the last time the Jazz reached the conference finals in 1998, with longtime running mate Karl Malone right beside him.
Stockton-to-Malone was one of the NBA’s top combinations for a generation. Only a few years since they broke up, Utah seems to already have found another great pair in Williams and Boozer. That’s the opinion of San Antonio’s Robert Horry, who broke into the league when Stockton and Malone were in their prime and already considers the new tandem 90 percent as good.
“In a couple of years, they’re going to be better than Stockton and Malone, in my eyes,” Horry said. “The things Williams can do are extraordinary. The one thing he might be lacking is not being able to pass as good as Stockton. But I still think they’re going to be a better combination.”
Horry said Williams’ big body (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and speed are among his advantages over Stockton.
“The funny thing about Williams is you never know what you’re going to get out of him—he can get people around him involved or he can get his,” Horry said. “In the second half, he went for his and he got it. Next game, he might be passing the ball, getting Boozer and all of those guys open shots. He’s just a great all-around basketball player.”
Besides containing Williams, the Spurs also are wary of a Game 2 letdown.
Part of Utah’s late success Sunday was exhaustion catching up to San Antonio from a physical and emotional series against Phoenix that ended about 39 hours earlier. The Spurs had a similar situation last year, handling a quick turnaround to beat Dallas in a series opener only to get crushed at home the next game.
Parker said players were thinking back to that mistake in the locker room after Game 1. Although Popovich dismissed the idea as ancient history, he did give players an off day Monday; Horry and backup point guard Jacque Vaughn showed up at the practice gym anyway to shoot some jumpers, while Parker stopped by merely to get treatment for his right shoulder and knees.
“The game we really want is tomorrow so we make sure we give them no hope,” Parker said. “Especially with a young team like that, it’s always good.”