For 47 minutes of the Spurs’ seventh straight victory, a 119-114 Wednesday night win over the much-improved Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, Tony Parker was pretty much a forgotten man. The 34-year-old point guard had missed 7-of-9 shots and handed out only three assists in a back-and-forth game with 32 lead changes.
In the final 34.2 seconds, he turned the clock back to his glory days as a four-time All-NBA selection and the team’s top scorer. The 15-year veteran forced a key Hornets turnover, nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner that gave the Spurs a five point lead with just 22 seconds left, and secured the victory by making four of four free throws in the final 10 seconds.
It was a reminder of Parker’s importance, even as the scoring load has shifted to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
“Tony Parker was really good understanding what to do,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich told reporters in a post-game interview televised by FoxSports Southwest. “The guys that have been in the league a while like LA (LaMarcus Aldridge) and Pau (Gasol) know how to execute different plays, different sets. They are pretty calm in those situations.”
Parker claimed there was nothing special about his big plays in crunch time.
“You just have to stay ready,” he told reporters in another televised post-game interview. “My mindset is, ‘Got to get it done.’ It doesn’t matter how. Even if I don’t get anything for 15 minutes you just have to stay ready. It’s the same thing for a lot of guys on this team, you have to stay ready.”
There may be some – perhaps even a majority of Spurs fans – who don’t fully appreciate what Parker continues to bring, but the team’s biggest star is not among them.
“If you have a great basketball mind and you enjoy watching basketball, you’ll see what he does on the floor and how our team runs without him playing with us,” said Leonard, who scored 30 points, his fifth 30-point game of the season. “I don’t think he’s underappreciated at all. I don’t feel that way and if people do, then they just want to see somebody score.”
The two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard definitely appreciated the defensive play by Parker that altered the air-tight final minute.
With the Spurs leading, 112-110, after LaMarcus Aldridge split a pair of free throws with 34.2 seconds remaining, Parker anticipated the in-bounds play called by Hornets Coach Steve Clifford during a time. He got a hand on Marvin Williams’ in-bounds pass intended for guard Kemba Walker.
The ball skidded off Parker’s hand and Walker’s arm, but referee Rodney Mott ruled Parker had touched it last. Per NBA rules, replay was used to get the call right, and it was overturned, giving the ball back to the Spurs.
Parker was not worried about the result of the replay.
“I knew for sure,” he said. “I went for the steal and I knew he touched it, so I knew it was for us.”
With a chance to run some clock and extend their lead, the Spurs ran a play through center Pau Gasol at the high post. One of the league’s best passers among big men, Gasol found Parker wide open in the left corner for a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to five points and gave Gasol his team-high fifth assist for the game.
Parker has been one of the league’s most accurate shooters from the 3-point corners for the past two season, but had missed two from his favorite corner on Wednesday.
“I felt in my mind like I was due,” Parker said. “I missed two in the corner. I love that shot and I missed two that I usually (make), so that one was the third one, so in my head it was, ‘It’s got to go in because of the percentage.’”
The victory kept the Spurs perfect in eight road games this season, matching the franchise record 8-0 start by the 2010-11 Spurs, a team that won 61 games.
Popovich, who had lambasted his team on Monday after its fifth home court win, shrugged off the historic nature of the 8-0 road mark.
“It’s a weird year,” he said. “We’ve lost three in a row at home and last year we lost (only) one the whole year. Now we’re undefeated on the road, so don’t ask me. That’s why they call it a game. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The win also was the 619th for Parker and Manu Ginobili as teammates, moving them past Celtics greats Bill Russell and Sam Jones on the list of career wins for teammates.