Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
It wasn't that Tony Parker had a bad outing in Game One. He poured in 24 points and dished out eight assists. Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell wrote that, Saturday, Parker appeared "indecisive and unfocused ... and struggled to score when faced with the busy hands and busy feet of J.J Barea." Parker isn't a prototypical shoot-first point guard, but in order to exert influence over the game, he needs to know he can score. Saturday, that confidence wasn't there or, at least, it wasn't evident.
Monday night, there was nothing tentative about Parker's game. He went 9 for 11 from the field in the first quarter, and finished with 38 points in a game with only 90 possessions. With the help of some well-executed high screens from Tim Duncan and Kurt Thomas, Parker confounded Dallas' defense all night, no matter what the Mavs threw at him defensively:
Dallas Runs Under the Screen
[1st Quarter, 10:14; 1st Quarter, 5:43; 1st Quarter, 4:48; 3rd Quarter, 7:35] Parker hits his two-point jumpers at a 42.2 percent clip -- not terrible, but not Jason Terry's 49.2 percent mark either -- so it's not a surprise that Dallas chooses to run under picks, and challenge Parker to shoot. It happens twice during Parker's seven-field-goals-in-nine-possessions explosion. The first comes after a rub-handoff on the right side with Tim Duncan, after which Duncan gives Parker a screen. The second instance, Parker gets an elbow screen from Tim Duncan. Both Dallas defenders -- first Jason Terry, then Jason Kidd -- opt to run underneath, and both times, Parker has all kinds of space from about 20-feet to set and fire. Both shots are good.
Parker has always maintained a high field-goal percentage, but he did it primarily by finishing at the basket at an astonishingly high rate for a point guard. It took him a while to establish a consistent mid-range game. When his jumper is falling -- as is true for most point guards off the screen and roll -- this is a defensive tack that's tough to maintain.
[1st Quarter, 2:15] With a point guard as capable as Parker, there are no hard-and-fast rules at defending the ball screen. Running a trap isn't a bad way to go, but if Parker can split it, the floor effectively becomes a 5-on-3 game -- one the Spurs won't lose. Parker converts his final field goal of the first period when Kurt Thomas steps out to the arc to give Parker a high screen. Dirk Nowitzki blitzes past the screen, but not high or hard enough. Meanwhile, Terry has every intention of joining Nowitzki on the trap, but Thomas takes him out of the play. By the time Terry squeezes over Thomas, Parker is already in the box -- but that's only Part One of the play.
Part Two comes as he reaches Dallas' help on the back line. As he makes his approach to the left side of the rim, Parker shows the ball to Brandon Bass, which disarms the defender. Parker then protects himself from any recovery by flying to the other side of the basket for a reverse lay-in.
No matter how he's defended, Parker demonstrates a remarkable ability to make strong moves to the basket, yet still have the body control to change direction as necessity dictates.
[1st Quarter, 6:18; 1st Quarter, 4:11; 1st Quarter, 2:50; 3rd Quarter, 11:30; 3rd Quarter, 6:20] This generally isn't a good strategy to employ against Parker, unless the thought is that a big man like Erick Dampier can slow Parker's path to the basket once Parker reaches the paint. On both Duncan screens, Dampier drops back to the edge of the lane, yielding Parker a little space. The first time Parker sees the switch, he takes advantage of the space by pulling up and nailing an 18-foot jumper. The second and fourth time, he attacks Dampier off the dribble, breezing past him along the baseline for the layup as his original man locks and trails ... less lock, more trail.
The Mavs never look more disoriented than they do on the third switch. This is the instance when Nowitzki gets crossed up and has his back to the play. At first, Nowitzki shows nicely, but as he goes to recover, he pancakes Terry. This gives Parker a clear path to the hole, and he goes in for the layup untouched.
Just as defenses will throw different looks at an offensive player, Parker does a masterful job of mixing up his offensive repertoire to keep the defense off-balanced. Having just seen Parker drain a jumper in open space, Dampier meets Parker much higher the second time around -- and Parker makes him pay the price by beating him off the dribble.
Dallas in the Zone
[2nd Quarter, 1:13; 2nd Quarter, 0:43] The zone, in large part, is designed to stymie guys like Tony Parker from penetrating, but Parker caps off his incredible first half by shredding the Mavs' zone on consecutive possessions in the final 90 seconds. The Spurs stay with the Parker/Thomas high pick-and-roll. They get into the first one quickly. With the Dallas bigs remaining on the back line, Parker has only one man to worry about up high (Jason Terry), and Thomas promptly takes him out with the pick. Kidd tries to help from the top weak side, but Parker is too quick. Howard is manning the ball side down low, but he has to account for Bruce Bowen in the left corner, so he's slow to leave. By the time Howard arrives, Parker is already to the rim.
The second zone-buster essentially functions like a "run under" set. Parker gets his pick from Thomas. Howard, who picked up Parker in the early offense, dares Parker to shoot, and the bigs are all zoned up, waiting down low. Parker shoots, Parker scores.
Some of Parker's prettiest baskets come in transition [1st Quarter, 9:38; 2nd Quarter, 2:26] and, of course, the third quarter buzzer-beater in isolation against Josh Howard. With the possible of exception of these three field goals, the rest of Parker's buckets come on set plays. This isn't to say that Parker doesn't improvise in the halfcourt, but he dispels any notion that structured offenses stifle creativity. Parker is dynamic and efficeint, stylish and methodical.