It hasn't exactly been a season to write home to Paris about for Tony Parker, so one would think that after he's finally turned the corner of stringing consecutive good outings together, he'd want to share his relief with the world.
Eh, not so much, as it turned out.
"I don't want to talk about it and jinx it," Parker said after San Antonio held on to beat the Nuggets 120-111 at the AT&T Center for their fourth straight win. "Every time I think I'm back I get something."
The "something" Parker referred to is an injury-related setback, most likely to his balky left hamstring. He took a step in the right direction in the previous game against Sacramento with a wicked crossover that left Andre Miller in the dust, but Parker refused to toot his own horn about that considering that Miller is a contemporary of Bob Cousy. Danny Green observed during the shootaround that he'd know Parker was back for good once he saw him execute his patented lightning quick spin move in transition.
Against the Nuggets, Parker did just that in the fourth quarter, one of 10 buckets on the night in 15 attempts as he finished with 24 points and seven assists. Parker got a number of layups to go as well as his teardrop and even a few mid-range jumpers and no matter which defender or trap the Nuggets threw at him, nothing worked as Parker was too quick and decisive for them all, with a no-look over-the-head hook pass to Tiago Splitter for a second quarter dunk also standing out among his personal highlight reel. It was a welcome encore after Parker's showing against the Kings, where he scored 19 on 8-of-14 shooting, and the third time in four games he's scored at least that many.
Parker was hardly the only Spur who had it going against the Nuggets. All five starters reached double figures and Kawhi Leonard led everyone with 25, knocking down 10-of-17 shots and almost destroying Wilson Chandler with a tomahawk dunk that just rimmed out. It was Leonard's third consecutive game scoring over 20, a feat he'd come close to reaching a couple times on the season but never quite managed before torching Denver.
You may be familiar with the only other time in Leonard's career where he cracked 20 in three straight. It happened in Games 3-5 of the Finals last June.
In all the Spurs once again looked like their 2013 selves, where Parker's burst offset any spacing issues between Splitter and Tim Duncan and the starters destroyed people at will but the bench struggled, particularly in the playoffs. Against the Nuggets Patty Mills never got off the bench in the second half after gunning (but not hitting) at a Westbrookian pace in 7:22 overlapping the first and second quarters. Manu Ginobili found himself in foul trouble in the second quarter and never got on track in the second half, playing just 18:44. As a whole the bench still scored 35 points, but they totaled just six assists between them and only Boris Diaw finished with a positive plus/minus.
It was a difficult game from beginning to end in that something about the Spurs looked off offensively, despite their lofty point total, but it was hard to put a finger on it. Both Ginobili and Gregg Popovich came away decidedly unimpressed by the team's performance, particularly in the ball movement department, and they seemed in agreement that the win had more to do with individual brilliance by their stars than anything accomplished collectively. Perhaps what we all missed was that one big trademark Spurs run at home. They had a trio of 7-0 runs and a 5-0 as well, but none of those 17-2, 18-4 run outs we've grown accustomed to. They also outscored Denver by exactly two or three each quarter, they simply couldn't put them away.
Is it yet another sign that these Spurs simply aren't very good, that their winning streak is merely a product of a break in the schedule where they're playing a few in a row against teams that won't make the playoffs? That might be too harsh, but keeping sustained focus and energy seemed to be an issue and the Spurs were caught off-guard by how hard the Nuggets played, at least offensively, under interim coach Melvin Hunt after a pair of easier wins in Denver with Brian Shaw at the helm of a sinking ship.
The Nuggets shot 52.3 percent on the night and both Ty Lawson and understudy Jameer Nelson wreaked havoc, as they combined for 36 points and 13 assists and sunk 13-of-23 shots. Parker was as powerless to prevent Lawson from doing as he pleased as Lawson was against him and Danny Green and even Leonard struggled in the second half when Popovich threw more size at Lawson. Parker feigned being insulted by the defensive switch afterward, but in truth he looked relieved and the switch gave him more energy to burn on offense for the second half. There weren't too many bright spots defensively for the Spurs, but Tim Duncan managed to swat three shots in the game, which enabled him to pass Patrick Ewing for sixth all-time in that category (but more like eighth if we're being accurate).
In the end what won it for the Spurs was enough penetration and relentlessness in going to the rim to earn a bunch of trips to the foul line, where they converted 25-of-33 attempts. Six different Spurs had at least four attempts, so at least in that regard the offense was a bit democratic.
The Spurs haven't won more than four straight games since a stretch from Nov. 17 to Dec. 1 where they narrowly beat Cleveland and then six other teams who probably won't make the playoffs. Chicago comes to town Sunday afternoon, without their starting backcourt, but nevertheless they will pose more of a challenge than these last few games have been. It will help, of course, if Parker could keep his own personal streak going as well.
"I'm not superstitious," he insisted, "but it's been a rough season."
Your Three Stars
3. Tim Duncan (89 pts)
2. Kawhi Leonard (95 pts)
1. Tony Parker (59 pts)
[A player gets 5 points for first star, 3 points for second star and 1 point for third star. The numbers in parentheses are their accumulated totals for the season.]