- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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SAN ANTONIO -- They would love to believe it will be this way three more times: David Robinson swooping for dunks and blocking shots and cracking jokes afterward with Malik Rose about how young he looked.
Only they know otherwise.
The San Antonio Spurs know that it's a rare night when Robinson can shout across the locker room that "I'm 29." They concede that it's not often Rose gets to stand in front of cameras and notepads and facetiously suggest that Robinson is "about to extend his contract." The Spurs understand, in the words of their coach, that "we've still got to be careful with David," even after Robinson's renaissance in this comfortable Game 1 victory.
"Because his body," Gregg Popovich admits, "is not going to handle that much."
Not at 38. Not with a back that can stiffen without warning. It's why the Spurs celebrated and savored everything Robinson could give them Wednesday night, in the first game of the last series he'll ever play. They knew going in that the matchups would finally allow him to be a factor -- there was little threat of getting small-balled by the New Jersey Nets -- but the Spurs also know that the retiring legend who provided a healthy 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks won't have five days of rest before Game 2.
The Spurs will quietly hope that Robinson's limbs continue to cooperate in this manner, because a freely moving Admiral makes them "very, very difficult to beat," as Robinson himself observed. Yet they will also root for another of Wednesday's subplots to become a full-fledged trend in these NBA Finals. The Spurs would be just as pleased to see more of what they saw defensively from Tony Parker, which was good enough for Popovich to keep Parker on Kidd for the bulk of the evening.
Trust us. That would be huge for the Spurs, too.
Popovich mixed in more zone schemes in Game 1 than San Antonio usually shows, but he did not stray from Parker as the Kidd defender when the Spurs played man-to-man. Pop did not go to Manu Ginobili or Bruce Bowen on Kidd for more than a couple of possessions, and the other Spurs were grateful.
"If we can stay matched up (by position), it makes it a lot easier," Rose said. "It really works to our advantage."
Concerned as they are about the Nets' fastbreak, and getting back in transition, the Spurs would prefer not to have to do too much switching around as they're hustling back to set their defense. Problems can arise if, say, Parker and Bowen have to scramble back to find guys who aren't guarding them at the other end.
"You generally don't want to cross-match like that against any team," Spurs guard Steve Kerr said. "But you definitely don't want to have to cross-match against the Nets."
That's because Kidd can pounce on the slightest hesitation or confusion to find someone with a bullet pass for a layup. The Spurs like it better this way, with Parker shadowing Kidd just like Kidd checks Parker.
No one was brazen enough to claim that Parker was primarily responsible for Kidd's 4-for-17 shooting, which actually computes to 2-for-15 shooting if you throw out the opening minute. But Parker did sufficiently well staying in front of Kidd to dissuade Popovich from taking the assignment away and giving it to one of his swingmen. Which also means that Popovich wasn't forced to find someone else for Parker to guard.
"We didn't have to do that (against New Jersey) much in the past, either," Rose said. "Tony does a good job of staying in front of him, which is a task by itself. Jason changes directions at full speed better than anyone since KJ (Phoenix's Kevin Johnson). Tony did a great job. But it's not over."
Indeed. Just as the Spurs have learned that they can no longer count on nightly sightings of a spry Admiral, they aren't expecting Kidd to shoot this badly in Game 2 on Friday night.
If they're right, that means Parker will have to be better defensively than he was in the opener. That's doubly true if it's just Tim Duncan protecting the rim and not Duncan (seven blocks to go with Robinson's four) getting seven feet of legendary help.
Of course, there's also no one here expecting Parker to panic. He had to settle some early Game 1 nerves, before sparking the Spurs' decisive third-quarter charge, but Parker certainly doesn't seem awed by Kidd or the hoopla surrounding their duel. You'll recall that Parker announced coming into the Finals that Stephon Marbury is a tougher cover than Kidd, because Steph is constantly attacking the rim in search of scores, and maybe now we have a better idea of what Parker really meant.
"I don't think he meant any disrespect to Jason," Kerr said. "It's like John Stockton. It's not a nightmare to guard John individually. It's a nightmare to have to guard their whole team because of how well they execute (with Stockton). Jason individually is not a nightmare matchup for Tony."
Especially if it happens this way three more times.
3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann