Tony Parker scored 28 points and dished out eight assists while shooting 10 for 19 from the floor in San Antonio’s 106-91 Game One victory over Utah. It was exactly the start the Spurs expected and exactly what the Jazz did not want to happen.
Parker and the Spurs looked like San Antonio from its championships days and every bit the top seed in the Western Conference. This was not the seemingly aging team that dropped a first-round series as the top seed last year to Memphis. The only difference seems to be that this is truly Tony Parker’s team now. He is squarely in the driver’s seat.
The way he took over Game One certainly made Utah believe so and whatever strategy Utah had for slowing down Parker did not work. For Game Two, the Jazz will certainly have to find a way.
That initial responsibility lies with Devin Harris. But it truly is a team effort. So what suggestion does Harris have for Utah to impede and prevent Parker from taking over?
Physical, physical play. And maybe a hard foul or two.
“He’s a challenge all around,” Harris told Randy Hollins of the Deseret News (h/t Jeff Garcia of Project Spurs). “He does a great job of getting in the paint, they run great stuff for him, and we’ve got to try and make him play a little more defense, try and limit his transition opportunities, limit his layups and maybe give him a hard foul or two.”
Utah certainly has the big bodies to make Parker’s life in the paint a little harder. This is not the 1990s though. It is a little more difficult to go head hunting and commit hard fouls without punishment.
Still, the idea is a correct one. The Jazz need to make the Spurs a little more hesitant to go into the paint.
In Game One, Parker was a team-best 6 for 8 at the rim in Game One according to HoopData and the Spurs took 37 shots at the rim, making 24. That is quite a lot and the Jazz have to improve their interior defense if they want to have any hope in defeating the Spurs in this series. More than that, Parker had four assists leading to shots at the rim in the game. That is right, half of Parker’s assists led to pretty much layups and dunks.
These are not good signs for the Jazz.
Utah does have a lot to handle in this series. Al Jefferson is occupied with Tim Duncan, who looked spry and ready for a long postseason in the first game. And the perimeter defenders struggled to get out to Matt Bonner and Stephen Jackson on the perimeter.
But the Spurs all start with Tony Parker and what he is able to do. The Jazz have to find a way to keep him out of the paint and take the ball out of his hands — preferably to players who are not quite ready to score.
Easier said than done. Many consider this year to be Parker’s finest and expect him to be among the top vote-getters when MVP ballots are revealed.
Harris and the Jazz might have to up their physical play as a method to stop him. But it comes with its own risks — such as increased foul trouble for important players like Harris or bigs like Jefferson or Paul Millsap.
For a young coach like Tyrone Corbin, stopping Parker is a challenge that might be too much for his young team to overcome at the moment.