SAN ANTONIO — Point guard Tony Parker took a sabbatical from basketball during the season, with his coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich, forcing him to miss several games to recover from a “variety of maladies.”
Popovich wanted Parker fresh for the playoffs, and the strategy is paying off. Parker scored 33 points and added nine assists as the Spurs defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 116-92 Tuesday in the first game of the Western Conference semifinals.
“He had a Tony Parker game,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He set the tone early. He’s probably their most important player.”
Parker averaged 27.5 points in his last four games, including 32 on Sunday when the Spurs won Game 7 of a first-round series against Dallas.
The narrative as the Portland series approached focused on whether the Spurs could guard point guard Damian Lillard and 6-foot-11 forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard averaged 25 points in four games against the Spurs this season. Aldridge averaged 21.3 points with 56 percent shooting accuracy.
“They have guys on that team that we haven’t guarded yet,” Popovich said.
That changed Tuesday, at least when it mattered. Aldridge scored 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds but hit just six of his first 18 shots. Lillard, guarded primarily by Parker, scored 17 but was limited to four points in the first half, when the Spurs took a 65-39 lead.
Popovich suggested that Parker is underrated as a defender.
“He played very good defense this year,” Popovich said. “Most people don’t really see that.”
Reserve guard Marco Belinelli scored 19 for the Spurs. Forward Kawhi Leonard contributed 16 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Forward Tim Duncan had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Parker scored 17 in the first half. He made half of his 14 shots, primarily mid-range jumpers. But he also converted his only 3-point attempt.
Leonard scored 11 in the half, and Duncan added 10.
The Spurs received 27 points in the half from their reserves, some of whom struggled against Dallas. And their top sub, guard Manu Ginobili, didn’t even score in the half. He finished with just two points.
Belinelli scored nine in the half, hitting all three of his 3-pointers. He averaged 3.1 points against Dallas. Guard Patty Mills scored eight in the half, two more than his average per game against the Mavericks.
The big surprise, perhaps, was how well reserve center/forward Aron Baynes played. Baynes, scoreless in six total minutes against Dallas, came through with eight points and five rebounds in seven minutes of the first half Tuesday. He entered the game after Duncan left with two fouls in the first quarter. Baynes finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes.
The Spurs reserves scored 50 points in the game.
“The best news is that Marco Belinelli is back,” Parker said. “And Aron Bayne was huge.”
Portland outscored San Antonio 53-51 in the second half, significant to at least one Blazer, guard Wesley Matthews.
“They threw haymakers in the first half,” Matthews said. “We won the second half.”
Even so, that first half was an extension of how well the Spurs played during the 119-96 win against Dallas on Sunday.
“I think team-wise we played our best game (against Dallas) in Game 7,” Parker said. “I think tonight we did a little bit of the same. I think defensively it was one of our best games.”
NOTES: Portland F LaMarcus Aldridge has a high release point on his jump shot, making him difficult to defend. “He’s like Dirk (Nowitzki); you can’t get to his shot,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. The 6-foot-11 Aldridge developed that technique in 2005 during his freshman season at the University of Texas. He missed the final 15 games with a hip injury that required surgery. While Aldridge was injured, Texas coach Rick Barnes had him work on his shot while sitting in a chair. … The Spurs’ reserves averaged 36.3 points during the seven-game, first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks, led by 17.7 from G Manu Ginobili. That was a drop of nearly 10 a game from the regular season, when the Spurs led the league in bench scoring. However, San Antonio still ranked second behind Dallas (38.3) in that category during the first round. … San Antonio and Portland last met in the playoffs in 1999, when the Spurs swept the Blazers in the Western Conference finals en route to their first NBA championship.
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