Essay: Back-and-Forth With Chris Paul And Tony Parker
The best point guard’s in the game today played against one another this past weekend. Lost amid other games of note—particularly the Spurs-Heat matchup on Sunday night, which ceded most of its luster after the Bulls ended the Heat’s winning streak last week—the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs went at each other on Friday night at the AT&T Center, and it was everything you’d want in a late-season game between two of the best teams in the superior Western Conference.
The game itself lived up to its billing: it was tight throughout, and featured full rosters so you weren’t stuck imagining how much better or worse a squad would look in its playoff manifestation. The health of both rosters didn’t last though. Manu tweaked a right hamstring that’s been bothering him for a couple weeks and immediately headed to the locker room in only third minute of action. It didn’t matter in the end because Tim Duncan hit the game-winner, plus a foul, after putting up a stat line that looks more similar to his consecutive MVP seasons in 2002 & 2003 than this, his 16th year in the league.
The game started with offensive fireworks, and the team’s went into the half with the Clippers slightly ahead 62-61. It also featured a dizzying array of point guard showmanship in the preceding minute before the halftime buzzer. That’s what we’re witnessing above. In the end, Parker won the game because of Timmy’s blast from the past, but both point guards show on this small sample of possessions why you’d be hard-pressed to find a floor general that’s their equal. Overall, they’re 1 & 2 in PER among the league’s point guards. Statistically speaking Paul shot worse than Tony on the night, but had a better overall game: Paul finished with 14 points (on 5-for-16 shooting), 12 dimes, 5 rebounds a block and a steal; Parker had 24 points (9-for-15), 8 dimes and 3 assists in just his fourth game back after a tough high ankle sprain knocked him out for most of March.
Regardless of their final numbers, with just a minute left in the first half, these two showed why they’re arguably the two best at the most important position in the contemporary game (even Russ, Kyrie, Stephen, Rajon etc take a back seat to these two right now). In the first sequence, despite less-than-stellar shooting on the night, Paul shows off his handle, forcing Tony further and further into the key before he rises up to shoot a high-arcing 20 footer that snaps the twine. Then it’s Tony’s turn. As Matt Bonner sprints out to set a high screen at the top of the arc, there’s miscommunication between Bonner’s defender, Blake Griffin, and Paul because Blake jumps out on the side it looks like Bonner’s setting the screen for, but instead Bonner goes behind Paul, and Parker crosses both Blake and Paul up before driving into the paint. Once past both defenders, Parkers lofts his unstoppable floater over a rotating Ryan Hollins. Nothing but twine.
Paul, understandably upset at the confusion on defense, gets even more annoyed at Tony’s pesky full-court defense after the inbounds, especially when Tony briefly taps the ball away. So Paul uses his big ol’ butt to knock Tony to the hardwood, and when Parker falls hard—mimicking a Paul staple by trying to sell a foul—CP3 takes off with Parker in his rearview and the Clippers now with a 5-on-4 advantage. Paul doesn’t waste any time and drives right into the teeth of the San Antonio defense drawing Danny Green from the wing to help, before whipping a perfect pass to Green’s man, Matt Barnes, in the corner for a short three.
Parker comes back, though. San Antonio again runs the high screen with Bonner, and Blake gets switched on to Parker, which is exactly what Popovich wants. After crossing Blake up, and hesitating a second at the elbow to get separation, Parker goes all the way in for a lefty lay-up in traffic with under 10 seconds left. Paul again grabs the ball and pushes it back up the court, but his attempt to get Barnes a second short-corner three bounces off a leg and falls out of bounds.
In just one minute of game action, we get to see what separates Chris Paul and Tony Parker from everyone else in the league at their position.
Who would you rather have handling the ball for your team: Chris Paul or Tony Parker? There are no wrong answers.