For Tony Parker, the nightly marching orders from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich are as simple as they are impossible.
“He wants me to be perfect,” Parker said.
Popovich does not dispute this depiction of what he demands from his 29-year-old point guard.
“He’s constantly in the area of getting hounded by me,” Popovich said. “He scores and I want assists. He assists, I tell him, ‘You gotta score.’”
Monday in New Orleans, in a 104-102 victory the listing Spurs absolutely had to have, Parker came as close to perfection as he ever could.
Using a prolific mixture of passing and scoring, Parker turned in a game for the annals, registering 20 points and a career-best 17 assists, becoming the second Spurs player to reach those totals in the same game.
The other: Wes Matthews, who did it in a win over Portland on April 16, 1986, a month before Parker’s fourth birthday.
The 17 assists tie Parker for fourth on the franchise’s single-game chart. It was the highest for a Spurs player since Dec. 17, 1997, when Avery Johnson doled out 20 in a game against Vancouver.
For Parker, games like Monday’s opus — which followed a 24-point, 13-assist stat-stuffing in a defeat at Houston — have been 10-plus seasons in the making.
“Pop’s been on him for years about his decision making,” forward Tim Duncan said. “When to attack, when to kick and trying to do both at the same time. He’s in a real rhythm right now.”
Forced to carry more of the offensive load with Manu Ginobili out, and forced to log extended minutes with backup T.J. Ford hurt, Parker is deftly dancing on the line between passing and scoring.
Heading into tonight’s game against Atlanta at the ATT Center, the three-time All-Star is averaging 17.7 points and a career-high 8.1 assists. In his past nine games, those numbers are 22 and 9.1.
Like a streak shooter who suddenly finds a hot hand, Parker has gotten on a roll with his passing, registering 30 assists in his past two games.
“There’s always that fine line between being aggressive and finding my teammates,” said Parker, who is playing through a lower back inflammation. “I just try to do my best and make Pop happy.”
Early in the game against New Orleans, Parker took that ethos to the extreme. He had eight assists before attempting his first field goal.
Certainly, his teammates contributed to Parker’s lofty assist total. In addition to hitting big men Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair on a handful of pick-and-rolls, Parker padded his assist numbers simply by finding open jump shooters.
“It helps when people make shots,” Parker said.
Still, there’s no denying Parker has come a long way since 2001, when he entered the league as a 19-year-old bent on scoring.
Earlier in his career, Parker acknowledges the mixed message coming from his coach — “Score! No, pass!” — played with his head.
“Sometimes, it hurt my game because I wouldn’t be as aggressive as I need to be,” Parker said.
These days, Parker’s only battle is with his own body. His back has been bothering him since Jan. 10 in Milwaukee. The minutes have been piling up on him, at least 34 in eight of the past nine games, with no rest in sight, at least until Ford returns sometime next month.
Until then, the games will keep coming, and Parker will approach them the way he usually does — terminally in pursuit of perfection, always in hopes of pleasing his hard-to-please head coach, chasing the impossible.
“He wants me to score, he wants be to pass, he wants me to do everything,” Parker said. “I have to be perfect.”
Sometimes, it’s just that simple.