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Parker returns to lead Spurs past Jazz

The SportsXchange

SAN ANTONIO -- Three weeks ago to the day, the San Antonio Spurs saw their run at another championship temporarily derailed, as Tony Parker came crashing down on his left ankle. With Parker out injured, they were left to march on toward the playoffs until his return.

They got him back Friday night, and to the Spurs, it was like he was never gone.

Parker had 22 points in his return to the San Antonio Spurs, as they defeated the Utah Jazz 104-97 in overtime Friday night at the AT&T Center.

"It feels good," said Parker on his return to the court. "We played a hard-fought game with playoff intensity. It was a great game for us and a big win for a lot of reasons. For Pop (Popovich) getting 900 and for Timmy (Duncan passing Shaquille O'Neal on the rebounding list). I'm happy to be back and hopefully we can keep this going."

Tim Duncan added 19 points and 16 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard also had 21 and Danny Green 15 as San Antonio (53-16) welcomed back their All-Star point guard.

Parker, who sustained a grade 2 sprain to his left ankle on March 1 in a 130-102 win against Sacramento, was expected to miss the whole month of March but returned earlier than expected.

After the Spurs announced before the game that he was probable, Parker trotted out at the start of the game to the cheers of Spurs fans.

He was eight of 13, with five assists in 36 minutes. Parker scored seven points in the last 3:09 of regulation. He found Leonard for a corner 3-pointer that made it 88-85 with 1:06.

Parker seemingly iced the game, hitting two free throws with 10 seconds left, until Marvin Williams hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

Then the 12-year veteran led his team in overtime, scoring six of the Spurs' 14 points.

"It felt better the second half," said Parker of his shot. "The first half I was hesitant. Second half I felt comfortable, especially in overtime. I felt like I never left the team."

His head coach was equally as happy to have him back, as Popovich stated earlier this week that his team's offensive play without Parker "continued to play in mud." The Spurs were 6-2 in Parker's absence.

The win also got Popovich his 900th career victory. In his 17th season, he is the 12th coach to reach that plateau and only the second to do it with the same team.

"900. It's funny, I played for Don Nelson when he broke the record and now I'm back with Pop," said Spurs forward Stephen Jackson."I'm happy for Pop, he deserves it. I'm sure he's got plenty more to come. He pushed the (postgame celebration) cake in my face and it should have been his face. But I'm happy for him; I'm happy to be a part of it. I'm happy to say that I was able to be coached and play for coach Popovich."

Parker hit his first shot of the game, a 15-foot pull-up two minutes into the game as the Spurs opened a 16-4 run. But just as quick, the Jazz returned the favor and went on a 19-2 run into the second quarter and went up 10.

Mo Williams had 10 first-half points as Utah (34-35) led 41-38 at halftime.

The Jazz, who have lost the last 25 of 27 regular-season meetings with the Spurs, were led by Mo Williams, who scored 23 points. Al Jefferson added 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Alec Burks had 14 and Paul Milsap 11. Utah has now lost seven of its last nine games.

The Jazz are wrestling the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot.

"The positive thing is that we played hard," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin on their loss. "We made a good effort to win the ballgame. We made a few mistakes down the stretch but if we play this way every night against everybody, we'll be okay."

NOTES: With his third rebound of the game, Tim Duncan passed Shaquille O'Neal for 13th on the all-time rebound list with 13,113. ... The Jazz had a tough time winning since the AT&T Center opened up in 2002. They are only 2-19 against the Spurs, with their last win coming on Jan 20, 2010. ... Utah coach Tyrone Corbin was a second-round draft pick (35th pick overall) for the San Antonio Spurs in 1985. ... With Tony Parker back and Duncan playing as young as he ever has, the Spurs can again boast the duo with the most active wins together. In 12 seasons as teammates, they have won 588 games together, which is fifth all-time.
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