Tony Parker has never really been embraced by Spurs Nation like he probably should have been.
Sure, you see No. 9 jerseys around town, but Parker has never received the adulation of teammates Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan over the years. Ginobili’s fan-friendly style of play and Duncan’s laser-like game focus (and four championship rings) have led them to be the faces of the Spurs’ dynasty among many fans.
Some of it might have started with Parker’s introduction. Parker came to the Spurs as a raw 19-year-old who earned a starting job by the fifth game of his rookie season. He was only replacing Avery Johnson, one of the franchise’s most historically popular players.
Parker was a part of three championship teams and earned the MVP of the 2007 Finals. He married and then divorced a television star. He brought a flash of international sizzle to a franchise that never really received much national publicity.
But some fans never really gravitated to that. And when he made some comments about the team’s future last summer — that he later backed away from — it caught the umbrage of Spurs Nation.
Ginobili’s recent injury and the gradual erosion of Duncan’s game have provided Parker with a chance to blossom in the starring role over the last several weeks. He’s played more minutes and been the team’s offensive focal point in a role that became more difficult with backup T.J. Ford’s injury.
In a compressed season caused by the lockout, Parker has never played better on a consistent basis. He’s averaging 18 points and a career-high 7.6 assists. His minutes played are more than three per game more than any of his teammates.
His game Saturday night was his most impressive as the season. Taking advantage of Gregg Popovich’s confidence to shoot more, Parker torched Oklahoma City for 42 points on 29 shots. And for good measure, he contributed nine assists with no turnovers.
His pass to Duncan with 4:56 left in the third quarter broke the franchise’s assist record. It prompted a quick 20-second time out from the Spurs that gave Parker a chance to bask in the adulation of San Antonio fans as the ATT Center’s spotlights shone on him before he returned back to the court.
At the end of his career, Parker deserves to have his jersey lifted to the rafters of the facility. And before then, more cheers like Saturday night and maybe even a berth in the All-Star game later this month in Orlando are richly earned.
Here’s a look at how Parker’s big game helped spark the Spurs to one of their more impressive victories of the season.
Game analysis: Parker’s vintage game as a scorer and penetrator and the Spurs’ blistering perimeter game gave them the chance to convincingly beat the NBA team with the league’s best won-loss record and the best road record.
Where the game was won: After Oklahoma City jumped to a quick 11-4 lead, the Spurs hit them with a 17-4 run that boosted them back in the lead for good. Parker started it with a floater and a jumper and Kawhi Leonard contributed eight straight San Antonio points, including a pair of 3-pointers that enabled them to take control.
Closing it out: Daequan Cook’s 3-pointer capped a 14-3 Oklahoma City run that pulled them within 93-84 with 8:27 left in the game. Parker responded with a pair of baskets and Duncan added a layup on a 6-0 response and the Spurs’ margin never dipped below double digits during the rest of the game.
Player of the game I: Parker was at his best with 42 points and nine assists. After struggling against Oklahoma City in his first meeting with the Thunder on Jan. 8, Parker was anxious to have a big game and even more determined to tell the Thunder what they were about to experience.
Player of the game II: After some early struggles on Kevin Durant, Leonard did a much better job against the NBA’s scoring leader as the game progressed. Durant got 22 points, but only 11 came after the first quarter. And Leonard put some offensive pressure on the Thunder by going for 15 points, six rebounds and five assists during one of his best all-around games of the season.
Player of the game III: Duncan overcame a struggling shooting game where he hit only 5 of 16 from the field for 13 points. But he was tough inside, outplaying Kendrick Perkins, who was shut out in 21 minutes. Duncan also produced 15 rebounds — the most by a Spurs player this season.
Most unsung: Matt Bonner came off the bench to continue to Spurs’ perimeter blitz. He came up with nine points on three 3-pointers as one of the Spurs’ most effective shooters.
Did you notice I: It’s hard to remember a Spur having a more disastrous back-to-back defensive possesions as Danny Green endured early in the fourth quarter. His goaltending on a James Harden shot that wasn’t close to the basket led to an easy basket. And on the ensuing Oklahoma City possession, Green committed a bad foul when he nicked Harden in 3-point territory on a shot that wasn’t close to the rim. Those plays enabled Oklahoma City to climb back in the game. I’m sure Green will be hearing about them during the Spurs’ next film session.
Did you notice II: After hitting his first two free throws of the game, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka clanked his final five of the game. Those struggles underscored Oklahoma City’s uncharacteristic difficulties from the line. The Thunder hit 60.7 percent from the line — their lowest game percentage since hitting 50 percent against Utah on Dec. 31, 2009.
Stat of the game: Parker torched Oklahoma City for 42 points. It was tied for the second-highest scoring total in the history of the ATT Center.
Stat of the game II: The Spurs went 12 for 23 from 3-point territory — the fifth time they have hit at least 50 percent this season. Their record in those games is 4-1.
Stat of the game III: Oklahoma City was limited to 96 points, marking the fourth straight game the Spurs have limited opponents to less than 100 points. The Spurs have limited six of their seven last opponents to less than 100 points with Dallas’ 101-100 overtime victory on Jan. 29 being the only game that broke that streak.
Stat of the game IV: Oklahoma City came into the game as the third most productive offense in the NBA, averaging 100.1 points per game. They were limited to 96 points, marking the sixth time this season they have been limited to 96 points or less.
Stat of the game V: Tiago Splitter endured a 1-for-5 shooting effort, marking one of his two worst shooting games of the season. The only one lower was a 1-for-6 game against Golden State on Jan. 4.
Weird stat of the game: The Spurs were pounded in the paint as Oklahoma City had a 46-30 scoring edge. The minus-16 differential was the third highest by a Spurs’ opponent this season. But in those three games, the Spurs are 2-1. They won against Dallas on Jan. 5 (minus-20) and lost Jan. 27 against Minnesota (minus-24).
Not a good sign: Gary Neal has been struggling in a recent slump after scoring 15 points Wednesday night against Houston. Since then, Neal has hit 4 of 17 (23.5 percent) from the field and 2 of 9 (22.2 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc. For the season, Neal is hitting 39.5 of his field goal attempts and 35.3 of his 3-pointers. In his rookie season last year, Neal hit 45.1 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from 3-point range.
Best plus/minus scores: Duncan was plus-24, Parker was plus-20 and Richard Jefferson and Leonard were plus-15
Worst plus/minus scores: Neal was minus-13, Splitter was minus-9 and Cory Joseph and James Anderson were minus-4.
Quote of the game: ”It was a big game for us and I got a little excited. After 11 years, you find stuff to get excited about as tonight was a good game to be in attack mode,” Parker on his on-court animation against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder during the game.
How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs will start their nine-game Rodeo Road Trip with games Monday at Memphis, Wednesday at Philadelphia and Saturday at New Jersey. Oklahoma City has four games left on a five-game road trip with games Wednesday at Portland, Thursday at Golden State, Saturday at Sacramento and Feb. 10 at Utah.
Injuries: Ginobili missed his 20th game (Spurs record 13-7) after undergoing surgery for a fractured fifth left metacarpal. Ford missed his 15th game (Spurs record 10-5) with a torn left hamstring. Oklahoma City played without starting guard Thabo Sefolosha (right foot soreness). Backup point guard Eric Maynor is expected to miss most of the season with a torn right ACL.