SAN ANTONIO -- Tony Parker conceded during camp over the summer his role would change this season.
Yet during the San Antonio Spurs' 109-98 demolition of the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Parker looked every bit a six-time NBA All-Star and four-time champion, not a 33-year-old veteran expected to take a step back to accommodate Kawhi Leonard and newcomer LaMarcus Aldridge.
“Tony was Tony tonight,” guard Danny Green said.
Being Tony entailed pouring in a game-high and season-high 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting with nine assists. Parker also played a major role in limiting Denver rookie guard Emmanuel Mudiay to five points on 2-of-12 shooting. Parker hadn’t scored 25 points or more in a game since April and the last time he dished nine assists or more came that same month, coincidentally against the Nuggets.
“I thought he was great,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s had some games where he’s started slowly. But overall what matters is what he is doing now. He is playing really good defense. He’s being really active and aggressive offensively.”
Parker did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 15 points to go with seven assists. Parker’s 10-foot pull-up jumper with 2 minutes, 41 seconds left to play gave the Spurs a 13-point advantage (109-96). Like his old self, the point guard finished the job against the Nuggets in a variety of ways: aggressive drives and pull-up midrange jump shots, all while involving his teammates.
“He got it going tonight,” Leonard said. “Once he gets it going, he makes the game easier for all of us. All we’re doing is catching and shooting. That is the easiest shot of the game.”
“My teammates did a great job setting picks for me, and it was easy for me to choose when to shoot, and when to pass the ball,” Parker said.
Green explained how the Nuggets' defensive strategy made that possible.
“Obviously the coverages, with the way they were guarding him, made it difficult for their guards to kind of stop, and they weren’t really shifting off our shooters or leaving LaMarcus or the bigs or the shooters to shift on [Parker],” Green said. “Usually, he’s used to getting shifts. Tonight, he got some lanes. Once he got a screen, he got some more open looks off the screens and [got] to the basket.”
As a team, the Spurs distributed 33 assists on 42 made baskets, led by Parker and Duncan (six assists), while four other players contributed at least three assists. San Antonio has posted 30 assists or more in three games this season, and the team’s 26.4 assist per game average ranks No. 2 in the NBA.
“I think we can still improve,” Parker said. “We also had 33 assists, so the ball movement is great. It’s great to get 33 assists so early in the season.”