Blame Parker for Spurs' struggles
After taking lead in regular season, Tony Parker not giving San Antonio enough
SAN ANTONIO -- If the San Antonio Spurs don't look like the same powerhouse that won 20 consecutive games, it's because they don't have the same Tony Parker who drove the streak. It's dangerous to reduce a group -- especially one as team-oriented as the Spurs -- to an individual, but a successful team is a group of individuals playing well. And the Spurs' most important individual, their MVP of the regular season, isn't getting it done.
Parker is letting his teammates down, putting his coach in a bind and backing the Spurs up to the brink of elimination after the Oklahoma City Thunder won Game 5 108-103.
So now the Spurs' 2-0 lead is gone, along with the memory of Parker's stellar 34-point Game 2 and the regular season that had him in the discussion for 2011-12's top player. They've been replaced by a Thunder team that looks hungrier and smarter, and a version of Parker that committed five turnovers in the span of 16 minutes in Game 3, missed 10 of 15 shots in Game 4 and had as many turnovers as field goals (five) in Game 5, the swing game that projects the winner in 83.5 percent of the series that are tied 2-2.
The Spurs are coming undone with turnovers. And Parker has totaled 11 over the past three games.
A convenient turning point in the series was Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks' decision to switch Thabo Sefolosha on Parker defensively. There has also been the amount of attention the Thunder's frontline has paid to Parker when he comes off screens.
The series shouldn't be reduced to such a neat summary. The star player is supposed to figure out a way to respond. If he can't overpower, he adjusts.
You know who has done a great job of that? Russell Westbrook. He can't simply blow by his man and get to the hoop against the Spurs, so he's looking for his teammates instead. Westbrook had 12 assists in Game 5. You can live with 9-for-24 shooting and six turnovers from your point guard when he has 12 assists. As the Thunder showed, you can even win on the road with that.
You can't say the same for Parker. He was never Magic Johnson when it comes to distributing the ball, but Parker has only four assists in each of the past three games. And with his point guard unable to lead the first unit, it forced Gregg Popovich to move Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup.
"It's an energy boost for the team," Popovich said of the change. "I mean, [Ginobili's] a great player, he's going to make plays, winning plays, and it might be a steal or an offensive board, a 3, whatever. He's a great player, so we wanted to get him more time."
Those are things he should be saying about Parker. Initially, the switch went the way Popovich planned, with the Spurs jumping to an early 11-4 lead and Ginobili scoring seven points in his first eight minutes. And still, the Thunder emerged from the first quarter up 26-21. Popovich had played his Z on "Words with Friends" and the Thunder used it to get even more points for themselves.
Ginobili gave everything Popovich could have asked of him. He scored 34 points, with 7 assists and 6 rebounds. But his start led to a predictable mauling by Oklahoma City in the bench scoring category: 40-22. It also produced some funky lineup combinations, during a time when a team shouldn't be tinkering with its lineups.
Parker isn't the only Spur suffering a letdown, of course. Tim Duncan is shooting 43 percent in the series, even after making seven of 10 shots in Game 5. Danny Green lost his starting spot to Ginobili and is shooting 27 percent, including bookend oh-fers in Games 1 and 5. Matt Bonner has been rendered useless by his defensive deficiencies and the way the Thunder have denied him 3-point shots. Tiago Splitter is too slow to keep up with the Thunder, and Oklahoma City is willing to foul him if and when the Spurs get in a groove while he's on the floor.
But if Parker was the one getting the most credit when things go right, he'll get a disproportionate share of the blame now. This season was about him taking on more responsibility. That means he's more responsible for things going south than he has been in the past. If you want more shots, you have to be willing to take more incoming shots.
These are the NBA playoffs, an event as star-oriented as Oscar night in Hollywood. Effusive praise (ask Kevin Durant) or excessive blame (ask LeBron James) comes with the season, like rising temperatures.
For the past five days, Parker has been saying he needs to be more aggressive. He hasn't done anything more than say it.
He has one last shot to come through, one opportunity to deliver basketball's ultimate test: a breakout performance in a road playoff game. If he does, the Spurs get an opportunity to continue their season with a Game 7 at home.
And if they instead become the 15th team to lose a series after leading 2-0, chances are we'll know whom to blame.