Spurs’ hopes ride on Parker’s health
The questions surrounding Tony Parker's physical health have been swirling for more than a month and a half, and just when you thought you once again saw that bit of burst back around the basket, the point guard showed up with a stinker that seemed to set him back in his push for playoff rhythm. Now the Spurs are now faced with a matchup against the team that's defined the word "rival" for Parker throughout his career.
“When I first arrived in San Antonio, that’s all they talked to me about. How can we beat the Lakers, and Kobe and Shaq?” Parker said after practice on Friday. “It’s great to play against them.”
These two teams met only five days ago in Los Angeles on a night Tim Duncan was once again special, and Parker was downright dreadful. The All-Star point guard had one of his worst scoring nights of the season, going 1-for-10 from the floor and generally finding himself unable to play at all like the guy we had seen most of the year.
“The last time we played L.A., it was maybe the worst game of my season. I had a rough shooting night (and) everything was hurting, but it’s a great opportunity for me to bounce back and play better,” Parker said, before smirking at one last dig at his previous Hollywood performance. “I’m pretty sure I will play better than I did the last game.”
And the injuries have certainly been an issue. In fact, if there’s one glaring reason for all the struggles San Antonio has experienced, you’d be safe to point directly at the sprained ankle Parker suffered on March 1 against the Sacramento Kings. Since that day, the Spurs’ offensive-efficiency rating (103.3) has crashed to 17th in the league while their defensive efficiency (101.7) dropped to eighth in the NBA after being right around the top three all season.
And Parker himself hasn’t been the kind of scorer the Spurs will need beginning Sunday afternoon. His shooting percentages have plummeted since the first day in March. Effective field-goal percentage? Down from 54.7 to 45.3 percent over the last 50 days — half of which he’s spent in street clothes. His true-shooting mark? It’s 54.7, nearly a five-point drop from the 59.5 percent he averaged through the end of February. And it’s not that he suddenly forgot how he plays his game, but the battles with bumps and bruises down the stretch have taken Parker down a more difficult road than he had anticipated.
He tried to protect his ankle, and in doing so might have exacerbated some other problems.
“It triggers a lot of different stuff. Your back hurts; your knee hurts because you’re trying to compensate. And when I came back we played like five playoff games right away, so it was just a hard stretch for me,” he said. “But that’s OK, there’s no excuse now. It’s the playoffs, nobody cares about that. Everybody has injuries. The Lakers lost Kobe.
“Everybody goes through these up and downs during the season, and now it’s the playoffs. It’s a new season.”
And sometimes there’s nothing like the postseason to create a boost in energy. San Antonio didn’t have a ton to play for over the last month, as the Spurs’ focus was getting healthy and regaining their defensive prowess, not necessarily winning games. But the temperature rises when the NBA’s calendar switches to the “second season,” especially with the bright lights that follow the Lakers to whatever city they visit.
“All the adrenaline. It’s the best time of the year,” Parker said. “We’re playing the Lakers, you can’t ask for anything better.”
Well, maybe you can. The absence of Kobe Bryant has certainly cast a cloud on this series from an aesthetic standpoint, and it’s not quite Spurs-Lakers without him. Parker said as much, saying it would “be a lot better” with a healthy Mamba on the court.
But Manu Ginobili, on the other hand, felt a little differently. Bryant has often called Ginobili one of his favorite players to match up against, and Manu was asked if he was going to miss Kobe during this first-round series.
“Not really,” he said. “I’m not going to be a demagogue … definitely not.”
I get the feeling Manu isn’t alone.