In the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s win over the Rockets, Tony Parker left with a leg injury. Thursday afternoon, the Spurs ruled him out for the rest of the playoffs.
Clearly, this is a crushing blow. Parker was officially diagnosed with a ruptured tendon in his left quad and is likely to undergo surgery. The 16-year vet was in the midst of his best postseason showing since 2014 and that, above the intangibles, is why San Antonio is in deep trouble. Over the course of his career, Parker’s played in 221 playoff games and won four championships, so it’s evident he knows how to win. Knowing “how to win” is played out and the Spurs already have enough of that experience. Champions execute.
Manu Ginobili fits in that category along with Pau Gasol, and even Kawhi Leonard, who has tasted success early in his career. On top of that, they have Gregg Popovich coaching. What they don’t have is consistent offense outside of Leonard, and Parker was taking on the role of being the second option.
Also Read: LaMarcus Aldridge, Houston’s Defense Will Decide Series
Through eight playoff games, Parker averaged 15.9 points on 52.6 percent shooting. His numbers are up big from the last two postseasons where he barely cracked 40 percent from the floor (40.7) and struggled to give the Spurs double-digit scoring (10.6). It was a problem, and San Antonio can’t go on a deep run if he’s not playing well.
In the Spurs Game 2 blowout, Parker poured in 18 points in 26 minutes before exiting with his injury. His 29 total points scored are second to Leonard’s 55, and Parker was poised to excel in the role that LaMarcus Aldridge was supposed to fill. Since LMA has been reduced to a walking corpse, the ever reliable Parker did what needed to be done: he alleviated pressure from Leonard.
If the other Spurs aren’t at least respectable on offense, Leonard has to work so much harder to get his shot because the defense can collapse on him. Parker’s ability to weave through multiple defenders and get deep into the paint opens up space for shooters, and Leonard’s made 6-of-11 threes because they’re relatively open looks. No one else has capitalized on Parker’s penetration, but, then again, no other Spurs has done much of anything.
What worries me most about Parker going down is San Antonio’s ability to control the tempo. If they run with Houston, it’ll get ugly. According to Basketball Reference, the pace of the second game was 87.3 possessions while the first was 102.4. We had two very different outcomes. Parker’s the floor general and has been for a long time. It’s Leonard’s team, but Parker can facilitate to a level that Kawhi can’t yet, and he’s able to slow the game down a pace the Spurs can play effectively. With Parker on the floor, San Antonio’s 4.1 possessions slower. That’s huge for them.
Also Read: Pop Calls Kawhi The League’s Best Player
His stranglehold on the tempo offsets everything else, and by “everything else” I mean his defense. Parker’s always been a below-average defender, and it hurts even more against a team with great athletes on the perimeter. Fortunately, the Spurs as a team are so constricting that it’s hardly noticeable, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them get better on that end.
Patty Mills is the immediate replacement. Until someone outplays him, it’s going to stay that way. In his limited minutes, 18.2 a night, he’s been as productive as anyone. Mills is about equal to Parker regarding ability on both ends of the floor, with his only distinct advantage being a more reliable shooter. Parker, however, was shooting the lights out himself. Mills has filled in as the starter for Pop before, and he’s someone the team can trust to run the offense and make plays from time to time. Statistically, he’s better as a starter than as a reserve:
- 12.1 points, 5.9 assists in eight starts
- 9.2 points, 3.2 assists in 72 games off the bench
Another major drawback from Parker’s injury is Kyle Anderson and Dejounte Murray getting minutes they might not be ready for. The two have combined for 29 minutes played, and they haven’t been meaningful. Moreover, Murray and Anderson don’t have much playoff experience.
San Antonio is going to have to play perfectly if they don’t get the all-around contributions from Aldridge, Gasol, Mills and the other key rotation guys. If everything clicks, though, it’s going to be a very competitive series the rest of the way, but losing Parker is a blow that could prove disastrous.
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