SAN ANTONIO (AP) Hours before turning 30 years old, Tony Parker grinned Wednesday as though his lowest-scoring playoff game since his early twenties was an early birthday gift from the Los Angeles Clippers.
Across town, Chris Paul wasn’t in such high spirits.
The marquee Paul vs. Parker matchup was a scoring bust for both All-Stars in the Western Conference semifinals opener, which the San Antonio Spurs won 108-92 despite their playmaking point guard scoring just seven points on 1-of-9 shooting. Paul didn’t shine any brighter, scoring six while going 3 for 13.
Paul finished third in the league MVP voting this season, and Parker was fifth. Yet heading into Game 2 on Thursday night, they’re so far together being outscored by Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard.
“I didn’t play effectively,” Paul said Wednesday. “I’ve got to have a better game.”
Parker’s not beating himself up.
“From the beginning of the game, they wanted to take me out,” Parker said. “Trapping me and forcing me to give the ball up. If they want to do that strategy, Timmy (Duncan) is going to have a lot of wide-open shots and all our shooters is going to have a lot of open shots.”
And that underwhelming start to the headline matchup of the series?
“We basically canceled each other out,” Parker said. “Their strategy was to take me out, our strategy was to take Chris out, too. In the end, we made more shots.”
That much was obvious as the Spurs tied a franchise playoff record with 13 3-pointers. Parker had 11 assists – setting up many wide-open looks when the Clippers swarmed him in the lane – but finished with his fewest points in a postseason game since 2003.
Those days were different: Duncan was already a two-time MVP in his prime and Parker was an unequivocal sidekick. Nine years later, Duncan is 36 and on the downside while everyone from coach Gregg Popovich to Manu Ginobili has acknowledged that these Spurs now belong to Parker.
Parker owned eight of San Antonio’s nine highest-scoring individual games during the regular season and led the Spurs in scoring in 22 times. But armed with his deepest roster in 16 years and a bevy of shooters on the perimeter, Popovich isn’t sweating his leading scorer being held to single digits.
“Good players take what’s given, and Tony did that,” Popovich said.
The Clippers don’t have the same luxury – particularly with Los Angeles banged-up and craving rest heading into what will be its seventh game in 13 days on Thursday night.
All-Star Blake Griffin said Wednesday his ailing left knee generally felt no better or worse than when the Clippers arrived in Texas this weekend after a physical seven-game series with Memphis. He also turned his ankle in Game 1 but said his knee remains the bigger impediment.
Griffin said he’ll be more mindful in Game 2 of how the pain becomes worse as the game drags on.
“I have to do a little bit better job managing that so I have a little bit more left in the fourth, the third – the second half, really,” Griffin said.
He felt at least well enough after shootaround Wednesday to punt basketballs off his right foot into the arena rafters at the AT&T Center, including once drilling one high enough to hit Sean Elliot’s retired jersey banner.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Paul is also still troubled by an aching hip and groin, even though Paul has insisted that his health is fine since the Grizzlies series ended. Del Negro said the Clippers need Paul to shoot better and control the tempo but acknowledged that his star is too banged-up to “just be Chris Paul” for the entire game.
Paul is averaging 21 points when the Clippers win in the playoffs, and 16 when they lose.
“He’s got to pick his spots, I think,” Del Negro said. “I don’t think he’s healthy enough to be as aggressive as I think he would like on either end of the floor. It didn’t get worse yesterday, but there’s really no time for the healing process because of the time element.”