DENVER – Landing at Denver International Airport late Wednesday afternoon was a shock to the system for the Spurs. As their charter aircraft taxied to the general aviation terminal, those aboard saw the effects of Winter Storm Helena through the windows.
“Just landed in Denver, literally snowing sideways!!” read a Twitter post, with Twit-pic proof, from broadcaster Sean Elliott, the former Spurs star.
And that was before Elliott, notoriously averse to cold weather, stepped into the frigid air, the temperature near zero.
With traffic snarled by the storm, a 25-mile bus ride to a downtown hotel that ordinarily takes about 40 minutes turned into a stop-and-go crawl that took nearly two hours, Denver’s new light rail train zipping past on a track that parallels the highway and takes only 37 minutes to reach downtown.
Gregg Popovich was still grousing about it 90 minutes before tipoff of his team’s Thursday night game at the Pepsi Center against the Denver Nuggets.
He was decidedly less cranky after his team’s 127-99 dismantling of the Nuggets. Only once in this 29-7 season had the Spurs scored more points.
The extent of the Spurs victory, their second consecutive win by 28 points, was remarkable considering they trailed 33-29 after a scorching start by Denver. The Nuggets made their first 10 shots, but survived because point guard Tony Parker took advantage of one of the NBA’s worst defenses and orchestrated an attack that matched Denver’s.
“The game’s 48 minutes long,” Popovich said. “Play the game. We got better as the game went along.
“We played good defense (in the second half). We made shots. We didn’t turn it over. Thirty assists is a pretty good indicator you’re going to do pretty well. Seven turnovers is another great indicator, so that was the ball game.”
By game’s end, Parker had authored a 21-point, 9-assist masterpiece in just 23 minutes and 33 seconds on the court, a performance that elicited the ultimate compliment from his head coach.
“He’s like Avery,” Popovich said, with no need to add the last name of “Little General” Avery Johnson, whose No. 6 jersey hangs in the rafters at the AT&T Center. “At some point, you stop coaching him. You let him just go play. I’ll call plays and sometimes he’ll countermand it and run something else, and that’s fine. He’s been here long enough.”
Parker’s eyes widened when he heard his coach had compared his playmaking to that of Johnson.
“That’s a great compliment,” Parker said. “I’ll take it. I felt like I came a long way, as a point guard – controlling the tempo, controlling the team and knowing when to get shots for LaMarcus and Pau and Kawhi and Danny (Green), making sure everybody’s happy. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better in that area.”
When Parker took over as starting point guard early in his rookie season, 2001-02, nobody would have anticipated comparisons to a floor general, but Popovich now mentions him in the same sentence as both Johnson and all-time assists leader John Stockton, the Utah Jazz Hall of Fame point guard.
“(Tony) was always more of a scoring guard,” Popovich said of his early years. “Avery was a distributor right from the beginning. Tony’s done a great job coming down that road towards Stockton and towards Avery. Now it’s showing up and it’s good for us.”
Parker was the most efficient scorer in the game, getting his 21 points on just 11 shots, and without benefit of a free throw. He missed only once.
The recipient of all of Parker’s season-high nine assists in Denver were Aldridge (28 points), Gasol (17), and small forward Leonard (24).
“Tony was vintage TP,” said Aldridge, who made 11-of-18 shots, his sixth consecutive game making at least 61% of his shots. “So, he definitely kept us in it and guys made shots, so that was good for us.”
Parker has scored 94 points in his last five games and made 33-of-64 shots.
“He’s in a rhythm right now, a good rhythm,” Leonard said. “He came out hot and stayed hot throughout the whole game, setting everybody up and getting us wide open shots and he got it going.”
Parker’s 10-for-11 shooting against the Nuggets was his hottest of the season on a cold, cold Denver night.