SAN ANTONIO – Veteran point guard Tony Parker made his season debut Monday night, but big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol stole the show by combining for 58 points in the Spurs' 115-108 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center.
Parker hadn't played in a game since rupturing a tendon in his left quadriceps Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals last May 3. He had surgery two days later and started a grueling rehab regimen shortly thereafter.
Seven months later, Parker returned to the AT&T Center, where he was injured, and received a warm welcome from fans.
"I felt great," Parker said. "It's hard to describe that feeling, but I was just very excited and just wanted to thank everybody for all the support. The city of San Antonio has been amazing, all the fans, the Spurs organization. It was just a great journey, just a great game tonight."
Parker played 14 minutes and finished with six points on 3-of-7 shooting, dished out four assists and didn't have a turnover. His first basket was vintage Parker: a drive to the basket, a pump fake in the paint and a point-blank bank shot for two points.
"Happy to have him back," Aldridge said. "He's a veteran guard. He knows how to play the game, makes things easier. I think everyone was happy to have him back. He worked hard to get back and to be healthy. It was good just to have him out there again."
Aldridge and Gasol did the heavy lifting for the Spurs, scoring 33 and 25 points, respectively, while recording season highs.
"Just trying to be dominant down low, trying to take make sure that we take advantage of our size," Aldridge said. "I thought Pau played good down low, trying to make decisions and also he made the three for us. I thought guys played patient and just moved the ball around."
The Spurs improved to 13-7 on a night when coach Gregg Popovich was ejected with 7:25 left in the first half. Protesting a call loudly, Popovich was tossed after he went on the floor and continued his tirade against the officials.
Dallas, last in the Western Conference, dropped to 5-16.
"I think the team played a better second half," said assistant coach Ettore Messina, who took over the coaching duties after Popovich was ejected. "Of course, when Coach Pop gets ejected, he shakes everything up. You don't want to let anybody down.
"Seeing that he leaves the game, the players maybe took two or three minutes, then they refocused. They got a little bit more edge, and I think they executed pretty well. They limited the turnovers, which was very important, and we got good shots at the end. I think it was a nice game to watch."
The Spurs finished with only 10 turnovers after having eight in the first half.
Aldridge also had 10 rebounds, giving him another double-double. He led the Spurs on both ends of the court, making 13 of 19 field-goal attempts, and adding three assists, two steals and two blocks.
Aldridge's 33-point game eclipsed his season high by one. He scored 32 in the Spurs' 97-91 victory over the Mavs on Nov. 14 in Dallas.
"I'm just playing," Aldridge said, when he was asked if there's something about the matchups with the Mavs that gives him an edge. "They go small pretty quick, so I try to be dominant down low, try to make plays. It was working for us. I think we tried to stay big longer. I think they played bigger tonight, too."
Gasol hit 9 of 14 shots, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, and also had six rebounds and four assists.
"The game plan is always to try and take advantage of your strengths and I think tonight we did a good job of staying big," Gasol said. "Usually we don't do that very often. We start big, but we don't finish big. Tonight, I think we did a good job of sticking to that.
"LaMarcus had a great game. We were just trying to find whatever the advantage was, and try to play off of it and be smart about it. I think the second half we just sharpened up a lot. The second quarter we had a lot of turnovers (three), a lot of breakdowns defensively. Overall, I think great effort, great win, and see if we can continue to build on it."
Kyle Anderson, Danny Green and Patty Mills each finished with 12 points and Bryn Forbes had 11 to round out San Antonio's double-digit scoring. Anderson also had 10 rebounds. Forbes drained 3 orf 5 three-pointers, and Green and Mills each hit a pair of treys.
Wesley Matthews and Dennis Smith Jr. led the Mavs' scoring with 19 points each.
The Spurs shot 52.4 percent overall (43/82) and 41.7 percent (10/24) from beyond the arc.
Dallas was 48.2 percent (41/85) from the field and nailed 14 of 32 attempts from long distance for 43.8 percent.
The Mavs led 23-21 after one quarter and 53-46 at the half. But the Spurs got their offense cranked up in the third quarter, outscoring Dallas 31-22 to take a 77-75 lead in the final period.
SPURS GAMEDAY: Parker's return from injury will cap months of rehab work
Dallas Mavericks (5-15) vs. Spurs (12-7)
When, where: 7:30 p.m., Monday, AT&T Center
Season series: Spurs lead 1-0
Last meeting: Spurs 97, Mavs 91, Nov. 14, Dallas
Mavs’ last game: Beat Thunder 97-81, Saturday, Dallas
Spurs’ last game: Beat Hornets 106-86, Saturday, Charlotte
Mavs’ last 10 games, streak: 4-6, won two
Spurs’ last 10 games, streak: 7-3, won one
Notable: The Spurs are 9-0 this season when they score at least 100 points.
SAN ANTONIO – After months of grueling rehabilitation following surgery on May 5 to repair a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, Spurs point guard Tony Parker will defy the odds when he makes his season debut against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night.
"Definitely, the hardest thing I've had to do in my career, to be out for that long and the discipline every day," Parker said Monday after the team's shootaround. "You've got to be very disciplined and a hard worker."
Parker, who turned 35 two weeks after getting injured, said he didn't know if he would start Monday night.
"That's Pop's decision," he said, referring to coach Gregg Popovich, "but it doesn't matter to me. I'm just happy to go out there and just play, and just be back. I'm just happy because half of the doctors said I would not play basketball anymore. I'm just happy to be out there."
Parker hasn’t played in a game since May 3, when he was injured in the fourth quarter of Game 2 in San Antonio’s series with Houston in the Western Conference semifinals.
"I feel a little bit like a rookie, like it's my first game," Parker said, chuckling. "Seven months is a long time. I'm just going to go out there and see what happens."
Asked what drove him during his arduous rehab regimen the past seven months, Parker said, "The love of the game, love of the game, as simple as that. I just love basketball and I didn't want to finish like that."
The injury, Parker said, made him take stock of his career and life in general.
"It definitely puts life in perspective, because I love the game so much that when it's taken away like that, you see it differently," he said. "I think I will have more fun playing right now after what happened and what I had to go through. I will definitely enjoy (basketball) even more."
On Sunday, the Spurs upgraded Parker’s status for Monday night’s game at the AT&T Center to questionable, but Parker said via Facebook he would play against the Mavs.
Parker has missed the Silver and Black’s first 19 games this season. Dejounte Murray started the first seven in Parker’s place, but was replaced by Patty Mills on Nov. 2 when the Spurs hosted Golden State. Mills has been the team’s starting point guard for the last 12 games.
San Antonio is 12-7 and third in the Western Conference, behind Houston (15-4) and Golden State (15-5).
"I think today is more of an emotional impact," Ginobili said, when asked what kind of effect the return of the team's floor leader would have on the Spurs. "Whatever he can give us on the court is going to be a plus.We are just thrilled to see him dressed, be with us, warm up with us, be on the bench or playing, or whatever. It's just going to be great to see him after all the uncertainties of his injury."
Parker said he could have returned two weeks ago, but deferred to Popovich, who always is conservative when it comes to bringing back a player from an injury.
"I could have, but the team was doing well," Parker said. "A lot of guys stepping up and playing good basketball, so I felt like I had some little stuff that I wanted to be get better. The team is doing great. They've been playing great basketball.
"Now I'm just going to try to come back and help even more. I'm just going to run the team and make sure we're in the right sets, and make sure everybody keeps rolling," Parker said.
All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard has been sidelined with a tendinopathy in his right quadriceps since early in the preseason. Coach Gregg Popovich has given no timeline for Leonard’s return, although Popovich said he’ll be back “sooner rather than later.”
The media had a rare sighting of Leonard at the Spurs' team's shootaround. Dressed in street clothes, he watched his teammates shoot free throws.
"I can only talk for me," Parker said, when asked about Leonard's lingering injury. "I feel blessed and I feel very lucky. My body reacted very well to everything. For Kawhi, it's a little bit different, but I still think he's like a couple of weeks away. He was looking good the last two or three practices he practiced with me. He was looking pretty good."
While Parker said Leonard is "close" to returning, he quickly added a caveat.
"He's still going to be a process," Parker said. "The Spurs aren't going to take a risk. It's still going to be, like a said, couple of weeks, three weeks. They're not going to take any risks. But he's looking good so far."
Parker was initially expected to be sidelined until January or possibly even the All-Star break after he had surgery.
While some speculated whether Parker ever would play again, given his age and the severity of the injury, he hunkered down and attacked his rehab work with the competitive ferocity that has driven him since he was a kid.
Parker pledged to “come back stronger than ever,” and return to play sooner than originally thought after he sustained the worst injury of his long career.
“I will play my best basketball when I return in January,” Parker told the French newspaper L’Equipe in late May.
While the Spurs gave no timeline for Parker’s return, some figured he would be sidelined through at least the end of the year.
But when the team had its annual media day in late September, Parker said he was ahead of schedule in his rehab and targeted late November for his return.
Parker was averaging 15.9 points and 3.1 assists in the playoffs before he was injured. He averaged 10.1 points and 4.5 assists during the regular season.
Selected by San Antonio with the 28th pick in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft, Parker was only 19 when he reported to his first training camp with the team that fall. He became the Silver and Black’s starting point guard early in his rookie season.
A four-time NBA champion, Parker has been an All-Star six times. He was named MVP of the NBA Finals in 2007, when the Spurs swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for their fourth title.
Up next for the Spurs after Monday's game: vs. Memphis, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., AT&T Center