While the San Antonio Spurs evened their second round playoff series 1-1 with a blowout win over the Houston Rockets, the feeling around San Antonio is bittersweet at best, considering the Spurs lost quite a bit more than they gained in last night’s win.
An MRI today revealed Spurs guard Tony Parker suffered a ruptured left quadriceps tendon injury with 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the injury will require season-ending surgery.
It was apparent immediately that the injury was likely serious, as Parker has been known to bounce right back even from the stiffest contact in the paint after finishing against power forwards and centers. Parker crumbled to the ground and had difficulty putting any weight on his left leg and had to be carried off the court.
It’s a tough loss for a competitor like Parker, and it also creates a gaping hole for the Spurs. Parker has been besting his regular season numbers in the playoffs, and was averaging 15.9 points and 3.1 assists per game. Prior to suffering his injury, Parker had racked up 18 points, four assists and three rebounds against the Rockets in Game 2. He was also just two games removed from scoring 27 points in the series-clinching win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Parker has been very important to San Antonio’s offense. With LaMarcus Aldridge struggling, Parker took over as the second option in the Spurs’ offense and provided some much-needed support for Kawhi Leonard. Aside from being the Spurs’ best distributor at point guard, Parker has also been a threat from deep, especially in the corners. He was shooting at a 57 percent clip from three-point range in the playoffs, and that gave the Spurs some flexibility on offense, especially when Leonard handled the ball.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich can go in several different directions to replace Parker in the starting lineup. While Patty Mills seems like the obvious choice, moving him from the second unit could create some problems offensively as the starters rest. Mills is also better working off of screens and spotting up for jumpers rather than creating for teammates, so Leonard would likely bring the ball up the court in that scenario.
Jonathon Simmons and Manu Ginobili are very capable passers that could start and also provide some added defense. While the pace could be slower with them starting, that’s not exactly a negative considering the Spurs have largely played at Houston’s breakneck pace through two games.
Dejounte Murray provides some length and athleticism at point guard, and he has had his moments this year. If Popovich doesn’t want to dilute his bench of offensive options, he could opt for starting Murray, but that could be a tall task for a rookie to take on.
Whatever the decision is, it will likely be a point guard by committee to try and make up for what the Spurs will be missing in Parker. However, what they won’t be able to make up for is Parker’s playoff experience and poise. Losing Tim Duncan was huge because he was a calming presence for the Spurs and a player that kept his teammates from getting frazzled when they got into deep waters like the Spurs did in Game 1. While Parker may not have had the same presence or effect Duncan had, he was likely the closest thing they had on the court.
Now more than ever, the Spurs will need to rely on several players to make up for the offense lost with Parker’s injury. Aldridge will probably have the heaviest weight to carry without Parker there to shoulder some of the scoring burden, but Game 2 was as good a time as any for players like Danny Green and Simmons to come alive.
They’ll need more of the same as the series shifts to Houston on Friday night.