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Tony Parker extols Spurs fans, thankful for 'all the love' in return

SAN ANTONIO -- Tony Parker ran through embraces and affectionate rubs on the head from teammates pregame like he was scrambling over the tops of screens, but the veteran guard held back the tears Monday for the San Antonio Spurs' 115-108 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

"No, it was just a lot of emotion, but almost, almost," Parker said when asked if he shed a tear. "I'm always amazed by all the love from Spurs fans. It's hard to describe the 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."

Spurs guard Tony Parker made his season debut Monday against the Mavericks after almost seven months of inactivity due to injury. Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Parker made his season debut Monday after nearly seven months of inactivity, having rupturing his left quadriceps tendon May 3 during the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. Parker hadn't played in 208 days before chipping in six points and four assists with no turnovers against Dallas on Monday.

On the night Parker finally made his 2017-18 debut, coach Gregg Popovich was ejected after receiving his third and fourth technical fouls of the season in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Spurs big men LaMarcus Aldridge (season-high 33 points) and Pau Gasol (25 points) combined for 58 of San Antonio's 115 points.

The 17,918 in attendance roared in applause when the Spurs announced Parker first among the starters during team introductions, and it didn't take long for the 35-year-old point guard to score his first points. Parker juked Dallas' Maxi Kleber with a vintage up-and-under layup for his first bucket with 8:51 remaining in the opening quarter.

Just 28 seconds later, Parker blew past Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. for another basket.

"Big lift, especially emotionally more than anything," Spurs shooting guard Danny Green said of Parker's return. "Just to see him warming up with us. I think everybody's just happy for him, just to see him go through that process -- the injury first, then taking that process of six to seven months of being out and not being able to play -- and what he's meant to us and this organization. For him to bounce back, and come in and play pretty quality minutes, and do it at an efficient rate, I'm just happy for him. Hopefully he can get back to his old self and help us. We'll see where we're at in a couple of weeks when hopefully we get the other guy [Kawhi Leonard] back."

Parker played close to nine minutes in the first half, but took the floor again with the starters to start the third quarter.

Parker found Gasol for a cutting dunk to tie the score at 58 with 8:46 left in the third quarter, helping the Spurs overcome an eight-point deficit.

"He played with poise and confidence right off the bat," Gasol said. "It was great to see, very positive for us. I know he's very happy that he's back after seven months of recovery, surgery and all of that. I just look forward to having more of Tony on the floor. He's a guy that knows how to play the game so well, has so much experience, will make the right play and will get our team moving. That's something very valuable for us."

Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, who filled in as head coach once Popovich was ejected, said Parker's leadership was quickly apparent in the veteran's season debut.

"Personally, I was pleased to see him," Messina said. "I think he did one big thing: He really poised the team at the beginning of the second half, not only because he scored, had a couple of jumpers and a couple of assists. But he really calmed down the team and had them executing on both ends of the floor."

Parker played a total of 14 minutes. Before the game, he figured he'd be "lucky" if Popovich let him play five minutes. Parker said the plan moving forward over the next few games is for him to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 minutes each contest.

"I love Tony, he's a great competitor, a great player," said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. "I'm happy to see him back. He's moving great, so it's good to see him back."

Author: Michael C. Wright, ESPN
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