SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs were happy to have Tony Parker back, especially in overtime when the All-Star point guard returned to his role as the team’s closer.
Parker had 22 points in his return from an eight-game absence, Tim Duncan added 19 points and 16 rebounds and the San Antonio Spurs escaped with a 104-97 overtime victory against the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
Amid cries of "MVP," Parker capped the scoring with a pair of free throws with 17.2 seconds left in overtime. He went 8 for 13 from the field and had five assists after missing eight games with a sprained left ankle. The Spurs were 6-2 in his absence, but struggled offensively.
"Tony was a little bit shy in the first half; he was just trying to feel his way a little bit," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "The game got tight at the end in regulation and then in overtime, and he was Tony Parker. Like I said, up until the time he got hurt, there wasn’t a point guard in the league playing better than Tony Parker."
Parker had six points and two assists in overtime, including a cross-court pass to Kawhi Leonard for a 3-pointer to open overtime.
Leonard finished with 21 points, including five in overtime, and Danny Green had 15 points for San Antonio (53-16), which remains 2 1/2 games ahead of Oklahoma City in the West.
Mo Williams scored 23 points, Al Jefferson had 18 and Alec Burks 14 for Utah (34-35), which has lost three straight and dropped two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the West’s final playoff berth.
"I can live with this," Jefferson said. "It is the end of the season and we cannot afford to lose one game. We played a tough team on their home floor and had a chance to win for the first time in a long time. The energy and the effort was there for all 48 minutes plus. If we continue to play the way we did tonight for the rest of these 12 games, we have a great chance."
Utah almost ruined what became a historic night for Duncan and Popovich.
Duncan’s 29th double-double of the season gives him 13,113 career rebounds, moving him past Shaquille O’Neal (13,099) for 13th on the all-time list.
Popovich recorded his 900th career victory, becoming the 12th coach in NBA history to accomplish the feat and joining former Utah coach Jerry Sloan as the only coaches to do so with one team.
"(The ankle) feels good; it’s more my cardio, my wind," Parker said. "I’m definitely (tired). It was a hard game; playoff intensity. Utah is definitely fighting hard to get that eight spot.
"It was big win for a lot of reasons. For Pop, No. 900; for Timmy passing Shaq; and me, I’m just happy to be back and hopefully we can keep it going now."
While Parker’s return helped settle San Antonio late on offence, it was the team’s defence that sealed the win.
The Spurs held the Jazz to 2-for-8 shooting in overtime after Marvin Williams’ 3 at the buzzer tied the game at 90, drawing a heated tirade from Popovich for the defensive lapse. In the end, however, Popovich was happy with the outcome.
"I thought it was a great game," he said. "The guys fought hard. Utah’s a team trying to stay in the playoffs and really highly motivated. We ground it out. We just ground it out and found some combinations that work well. A lot of people contributed to that. It was a hell of a win. It’s one of our better wins this year for a lot of reasons."
Parker made his first attempt, drawing huge applause after hitting a 15-foot jumper 2 minutes into the game. He had only six points in the first half, going 3 for 6 from the field in 17 minutes.
"It’s always tough, because you don’t want to mess with the chemistry," Parker said. "They’ve been playing very good basketball at home. I was just trying to fit in. In the second half, Pop was calling plays for me. And being aggressive in the fourth quarter, so it came naturally."
The Spurs had a 12-0 run to take a 16-4 lead with 6:26 left in the first quarter. Tiago Splitter capped the run by tossing in a hook shot after missing an open layup off a bullet pass from Parker.
Parker sat shortly after that pass, sparking a 17-2 run by Utah to close the quarter. San Antonio went scoreless for almost 5 minutes bridging the first and second quarters.
Leonard also had six points in the first half before going 6 for 8 from the field in the second half and overtime, including 3 for 3 on 3s.
"Kawhi’s a stud, he’s not afraid to shoot the ball," Popovich said. "He knows that he’s got license to play; we went to him a couple of times down the stretch in regulation and he came through."
NOTES: San Antonio’s victory was its first in overtime against Utah after losing the previous three in series history. . Parker is the only player averaging at least 20 points and seven assists while shooting over 50 per cent from the field and 80 per cent on free throws. … Popovich trails Don Nelson (1,335), Lenny Wilkens (1,332), Sloan (1,221), Pat Riley (1,210), Phil Jackson (1,155), George Karl (1,122), Larry Brown (1,098), Rich Adelman (994), Bill Fitch (944), Red Auerbach (938) and Dick Motta (935) in career victories. "It’s funny, I played for Don Nelson when he broke the record and now I’m back with Pop," Stephen Jackson said. "I’m happy for Pop, he deserves it. I’m sure he’s got plenty more to come. He pushed the (postgame celebration) cake in my face and it should have been his face. But I’m happy for him; I’m happy to be a part of it. I’m happy to say that I was able to be coached and play for coach Popovich." . Parker is the only active player averaging at least 15 points, five assists while shooting over 49 per cent from the field for his career. The only other players to do that are Walt Frazier, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kevin Johnson. … With its victory Friday, San Antonio joins Miami (31) and Oklahoma City (30) as the only teams with 30 wins at home this season.