But then came a possession early in the fourth quarter of a 121-96 victory for the Spurs over the Houston Rockets, a win that would even the series between the Texas rivals at a game apiece thanks in no small part to Parker’s 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting and four assists. Parker got into the lane, as he has so many times before, and rose up for his trademark floater over the Houston defense.
As the shot missed, the Rockets collected the rebound and began to go the other way, but Parker collapsed to the ground, held his left leg and stared at his left knee. It was the look of a man who knew something bad had happened.
His fears were confirmed when Parker had to be carried off the court and to the locker room by a pair of teammates.
“It’s not good,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after the game.
Although the results of a Thursday morning MRI exam weren’t made public, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Parker was expected to undergo surgery for what the team said only was a left leg injury. ESPN later reported that it was a ruptured quadriceps tendon that would keep him out the rest of the playoffs.
Immediately after he was injured, no one in San Antonio was expecting good news.
“It’s hard to see him limping and hurting now, and you kind of know we’re not going to see him anytime soon,” Ginobili said. “That’s a tough blow. We shall see. We don’t know.”
For so long, the Spurs have been defined by four figures: Tim Duncan, Popovich, Ginobili and Parker. Or, as they’re known in San Antonio, Timmy, Pop, Manu and Tony. It’s a quartet that’s won as much together as any in NBA history, collecting four championships and making the postseason every season this century — something no other team has done.
But now, one by one, that era is beginning to end. Duncan was the first to go, choosing to retire after last year’s playoffs. Ginobili, who looked every bit of his 39 years in going scoreless in the first four games of San Antonio’s first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, seems as if he could very well follow Duncan after this season. And now Parker — signed through next season — has an uncertain future.
Sports can be cruel, and few moments are worse than seeing a player crumple to the ground with a noncontact injury. But it’s doubly so for someone in Parker’s position. The veteran played as he used to in the playoffs, giving Kawhi Leonard some modicum of help to try to lift the Spurs to yet another deep postseason run.
“He has that presence, just like [Duncan] had that presence,” point guard Patty Mills told reporters. “And he was rolling the last month, going back to his old self. He has that presence on the floor, especially when he’s on the break.
“When the ball is in his hands, he makes big-time plays, big-time shots, big-time moves. So we’ll see what the deal is.”
San Antonio has options besides Parker. Leonard was once again remarkable in Game 2, finishing with 34 points on 13-for-16 shooting and eight assists, and likely will be called upon not only to be the Spurs’ defensive stopper and leading scorer, but the team’s main creator moving forward. Mills will likely become the team’s starting point guard, and Ginobili — still one of the sport’s most creative passers — will probably assume the backup point guard spot.
What the Spurs can’t do, however, is replace what Parker means to the team.
“Besides the fact that Tony is our point guard, we are going to miss having him around, his experience, his big shots,” Ginobili said. “It is more than just who is going to start. We are going to miss his presence.”
As Parker was carried back to San Antonio’s locker room moments later, one could almost see that presence leaving with him, along with so much of what has made the Spurs who they have been over their long run of dominance within the sport.
|Tony Parker’s knee injury could end his season — and, along with it, a glorious stretch of San Antonio Spurs history. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)|
|Tony Parker's absence in Game 3 on Friday will be the first time he will have missed a playoff game in a career that has spanned 16 seasons -- and 221 postseason games -- with the Spurs. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
Spurs' Tony Parker has ruptured quadriceps tendon
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker has a ruptured left quadriceps tendon and will miss the remainder of the playoffs, the team announced Thursday.
The Spurs said a timeline for Parker's return would be determined at a later date.
Parker, 34, had an MRI after suffering the injury during the Spurs' 121-96 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday night.
With 8:52 left in the fourth quarter, Parker immediately clutched at his left knee after a driving floater over Patrick Beverley and collapsed to the court, where he lay motionless for several minutes.
He rose to his feet but was unable to put any pressure on his left leg, so he was carried off the court by rookie guard Dejounte Murray and center Dewayne Dedmon.
Said coach Gregg Popovich after the game: "It's not good."
Houston will host Game 3 of the best-of-seven series Friday night.
"You never want to see a player injured, especially a guy like TP, who is closing down at the end of his career," Houston star James Harden said. "He's been playing well all postseason. It's tough. We say a prayer for him."
Said Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni: "I hate it for Tony Parker. He's a great guy; not [just] a good guy."
After the Spurs were blown out in Game 1, Parker responded with 18 points in 26 minutes before getting injured to help San Antonio rebound and even the series.
His 10.1 points per game in the regular season was his lowest average since his rookie year in 2001-02. But he averaged 15.9 points on 53 percent shooting in eight playoff games -- second on the Spurs behind Kawhi Leonard (30.3 PPG) -- and had a vintage 27-point night in Game 6 against Memphis to clinch that series.
On Wednesday, Parker became the ninth player in NBA postseason history to reach 4,000 career points. He and LeBron James are now the league's only players to have scored 4,000 points and dished 1,000 assists in postseason play.
Parker had not only played 221 career postseason games, which ranks fifth in NBA history, but he had also never missed a playoff game in his 16 seasons with the Spurs.
He missed 16 games during the regular season because of rest and various ailments, such as right knee soreness, a left quadriceps bruise, a left knee bruise, left foot pain and back stiffness.
Most likely to get the first crack at replacing Parker in the lineup is veteran Patty Mills, who averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 assists per game during the regular season and contributed seven points Wednesday against the Rockets.
Leonard also said he could "definitely" see himself in a point-forward role with Parker out.
If Mills moves to the starting lineup, Manu Ginobili likely will serve as the primary backup.
Parker's absence also will lead to more minutes for Murray, as well as Kyle Anderson, a former college point guard, and Jonathon Simmons.
Rockets players, referring to Popovich and the Spurs as a "machine," said they didn't think much would change with Parker out.
"You know how Pop is," Beverley said. "His team is a machine. One person falls down, next person steps up."
Said Harden: "You can take anybody off that roster, and they're [still] a great team."
One Houston player who disagreed, however, was forward Trevor Ariza, who said Parker's loss leaves a "huge hole" for the Spurs.
"What he brings to their team, I don't know how you replace that," Ariza said. "Not saying they don't have good enough players to step in. But what he brought to that team, I think it's unmatched."
Parker's injury puts the Spurs in a difficult spot this offseason because they have no cap room to go after a guard, especially with Pau Gasol expected to opt in for $14 million. If the injury is deemed to be career-ending, the Spurs can't even apply for salary-cap relief until one year from the date of the injury.
Tony Parker (ruptured left quadriceps tendon) out for remainder of playoffs
One of Gregg Popovich's top priorities in the final weeks of the regular season was making sure the San Antonio Spurs got veteran point guard Tony Parker healthy and in rhythm for the playoff push.
More than seeding or home-court advantage, Popovich said, the Spurs needed Parker in order to stay competitive against the other heavyweights in the Western Conference playoffs.
Now that Parker will miss the rest of the postseason with a leg injury, the Spurs will be tested like they rarely have been before.
The Spurs said Thursday that Parker has a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his left leg. The injury likely will require surgery to repair, meaning the Spurs will have to go through the rest of the postseason without their floor leader.
Next up is Game 3 of their tied second-round series with the Rockets on Friday night in Houston.
"If he's not right or he can't play, we're going to have a tough time staying with the big boys," Popovich told The Associated Press in a late March interview. "When he's been healthy we've had a rhythm, he gets into it defensively and has set a tone on the perimeter for us along with Kawhi (Leonard). His organization of the team is really important, understanding time and score, what's going on on the court.
"He's a great source for me to read what we're doing that night in that game and what might be needed."
While the 34-year-old Parker is not the dynamic playmaker he was in his younger days, he is still hugely important to the team. After the Spurs were blown out in Game 1, Parker responded with 18 points in 25 minutes before getting injured.
He appeared to land awkwardly while taking a shot with 8:34 to play Wednesday night and crumpled to the court. The Frenchman needed to be carried off the floor by teammates, casting a pall over San Antonio's victory.
Popovich said after the game that it didn't look good, and the Spurs' fears were confirmed after an MRI on Thursday. The team said there is no timetable yet for his recovery.
"What he brings to their team, I don't know how you replace that," Rockets forward Trevor Ariza told reporters in Houston. "Not saying they don't have good enough players to step in. But what he brought to that team, I think it's unmatched."
With Parker out, backup Patty Mills could move into a starting role and the Spurs likely will give Leonard more ball-handling responsibility. Rookie Dejounte Murray is another candidate to see more playing time.
Perhaps most disappointing is that Parker had found another gear in the playoffs after an underwhelming regular season, two weeks before his 35th birthday. His 10.1 points-per-game average in the regular season was his lowest since his rookie year in 2001-02. But he averaged 15.9 points on 53 percent shooting in eight playoff games, including a vintage 27-point night in Game 6 against Memphis to clinch that series.
Back in March, Popovich contemplated how important Parker had become, especially after Tim Duncan's retirement. His point guard had come under scrutiny from fans who said his best days were behind him, but Popovich marveled at how the soft-spoken Parker's leadership had "increased exponentially" in their first season together without Duncan.
"If we don't have him, it's going to be a lot tougher to hang with teams like Houston and Golden State, the Clippers, that kind of thing," Popovich told The Associated Press before the season ended.
Now it will be up to Mills, Murray and anyone else the Spurs can scrape up to chase James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and the Houston's 3-happy guards all over the court.
The Rockets were breathing no sighs of relief on Thursday. To a man, they expressed concern for Parker's health and his future. This figures to be a long, arduous rehabilitation. And with one year left on his contract, nothing is certain.
"You never want to see a player injured, especially a guy like TP, who is closing down at the end of his career," Harden said. "He's been playing well all postseason. It's tough. We say a prayer for him."