San Antonio's Tony Parker looks for a shot against Clippers'… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Throughout the playoff series, Spurs point guard Tony Parker has downplayed his matchup with Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
Things were no different Saturday after the Spurs' 96-86 comeback victory, as Parker reiterated that he was not focusing solely on shutting down the Clippers star.
But Parker's teammate Tim Duncan did say that the tough defensive assignment makes Parker "even better."
"He couldn't find a rhythm on the offensive end, but he was playing defense really hard," Duncan said. "He got up into Chris and made some things happen in that respect, and I think that really got him going."
Parker has been trouble for the Clippers after a relatively lackluster Game 1 in which he scored only seven points. He bounced back in games 2 and 3 to lead the Spurs in scoring with 22 points Thursday and another 23 points and 10 assists Saturday afternoon.
Perhaps equally impressive, Parker has clamped down on Paul all series long, holding his fellow all-star to just 9.3 points per game. Paul, though, has been hampered by a strained right hip flexor, and Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said Saturday that he didn't think Paul was 100%.
That didn't stop the pair from battling early, trading drives to the hoop minutes after the tip. To wind the clock down in the second quarter, Parker dribbled the ball alone at the top of the key and made his move to the hoop, only to have his shot rejected by Paul as the buzzer was about to sound. The Spurs, however, had cut the Clippers' 24-point lead to 10 by halftime and would complete their comeback in the third quarter, with Parker setting the tempo and demeanor.
"We were very calm at halftime," Parker said. "We felt like we were playing better."
The point guard punctuated his strong day with 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a tough jumper over the outstretched arms of Clippers center Reggie Evans and a three-pointer from the corner that stymied the Clippers' late comeback attempt.
"Tony really ran the show well," Popovich said after the game. "I'd say, 'Let's do this,' and he'd say, 'No, we're going to do this.' We go with what Tony says because he knows what's going on out there more than I do."
Parker's productivity is just one more headache for Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro, whose team now faces a 3-0 series deficit heading into Sunday's Game 4.
"We have to do a better job trying to contain him a little bit and force him to certain areas," Del Negro said. "Easy to talk about; a lot of people have tried and haven't had great success."