Another NBA finals and another injury problem for the San Antonio Spurs when it comes to Tony Parker. The All-Star point guard plans on playing with or without his ankle bothering him, but this brings some sort of dejavu factor to the series, considering what happened at the ending of the Finals last year.
Parker, overall, was a disappointment in the 2013 NBA finals. He scored 21 points and the game winning shot of game 1. So far so good. He scored 26 points as the Spurs beat the Heat 114-104 in game 5 of the series to take a 3-2 lead. But he had plenty of weak efforts as well, especially in the two losses that ended the series, with cramps and a hamstring problem weighing down on him when the Spurs needed him more than anything.
He scored 19 points in that painful, almost tragic game six loss, but he shot 6-of-23 from the field, and did a terrible job on defense. In game 7, Parker was even worse, as he hit 3-of-12 from the field to finish with only 10 points, with the Spurs losing the series 95-88. Most of the blame after the two games went either to Manu Ginobili for his turnovers and free throw misses or Tim Duncan for missing a half hook shot, half layup that could have sealed the deal.
And here we are, a year later, with Parker coming off a bad finish to the series against the Thunder. It wasn’t just his ankle that got in the way. Russell Westbrook turned up his game to a level which seemed to be a bit too strong and fast, even for Parker. He averaged 18 points on 55.1% from the field in the opening two wins, but averaged only 10.8 points in the next four games, missing the entire second half of game 6, which the Spurs managed to handle without him.
According to Parker, the ankle has been bothering him since the series against the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference semifinals, but he didn’t let anyone know until later in the series against the Thunder. He isn’t going to face a point guard that’s quite like Westbrook against the Heat, but he is going to get a lot of minutes with LeBron James guarding him if last year is any indication. Playing 50% against that kind of man to man defense doesn’t bode well.
But maybe this is simply Popovich learning from his series against the Thunder. Serge Ibaka should have been out for the series, but magically reappeared in game 3 to give the Thunder a boost that lasted for exactly three days. Ibaka wasn’t completely healthy (or simply faking his limps and hamstring checks), and neither is Parker from what we saw from him in the last four games, but this simply could be a little bit of exaggerating.
Cory Joseph and Patty Mills each can do a good job coming off the bench and filling in for Parker, but they’re not the real deal, not for a whole series. It means more minutes for Ginobili as the actual point guard, and maybe more time for the disappointing Marco Belinelli on the floor, recently relegated to garbage time squad instead of being a guy to rely on during the clutch minutes, which weren’t too plentiful in the series against the Thunder.
If there’s one team in this league that can succeed even without their alleged best player, the Spurs are it. However, why make things complicated when the Heat already pose such a huge problem? Losing someone like Parker or a big chunk of his abilities is a blow to any team, even the deepest and smartest team in the league. Once again the magic Popovich is able to conjure whenever he deals with aging and injured players when it comes to finding the right minutes for them is called into action. This time he better not make a mistake.