Normally when a player comes back from injury, it’s customary for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to bring that player back slowly, starting off with limited playing time and increasing minutes each game until the player is worked back into the system and transitions to playing their normal dose of minutes.
With Spurs guard Tony Parker, that recovery process went right out the window as did his original diagnosis of being out for a total of four weeks. Of course, speed has never been an issue for the 30-year-old All-Star.
Limited minutes in Parker’s return? Try over 36 minutes against Utah, almost four more minutes than his season average.
For a team that went 6-3 in three weeks without Parker, the Spurs readjusted to having Parker back in the lineup rather quickly.
“We have a professional team. We have guys that come prepared to play. At the end of the day, we know our identity,” Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson said. “We know who our stars are and we know who our role players are. It's just all about us going out there and doing it."
For a team Popovich said was “playing in mud” and had a “pretty dead offense,” Parker’s return came at just the right time with the team struggling without someone that consistently attacked defenses, got into the lane and found open shooters. While Kawhi Leonard was a stopgap, the Spurs stood around more on offense and became spectators.
Parker’s return has given the offense a kick in the pants, and although they lost in the closing minutes, that was especially evident last night against the Rockets when Parker put his teammates on his back as he went on a 10-0 fourth quarter run and kept the Rockets defense back on their heels.
"TP's getting his rhythm back. He's feeling good, and obviously, he's our attack guy on the floor,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said after the game. “He made some plays to get us back in the game and give us a chance to win it."
In his two games back from injury, Parker is averaging 22.5 points, six assists and is shooting over 57 percent from the field.
With big performances against the Nuggets, Clippers and Heat this week, Parker could make his eight-game absence a distant memory and make yet another quick transition.
Parker was consistently mentioned as a top MVP candidate before his injury, and if the last two games are telling of what’s to come, he could soon re-insert himself into that conversation.