SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tony Parker, along with all of San Antonio, really, spent a restless night worrying about a gimpy right hamstring that hampered him in Game 3 of the NBA Finals and threatened the momentum the Spurs seized with a drubbing of the Miami Heat.
A day later, Parker said he got some good news. Just how good the news is likely won’t be known until Game 4 begins on Thursday night.
Parker had an MRI on Wednesday that revealed a Grade 1 strain of his hamstring, the mildest level of strain. He’s listed as day to day.
“I was just hoping it was not a tear,” Parker said. “The good news is it’s not a tear or a defect. So that’s the good news. Now I just have to see how I feel tomorrow.”
Parker was injured early in the second half of Game 3, which the Spurs won 113-77 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. He was limited to six points and eight assists in 27 minutes and left the game early in the fourth quarter with the outcome already decided.
Parker did not participate in the portion of practice on Wednesday that was open to the media, instead watching his teammates go through a light workout while spending much of the time in conversation with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
“We’ll see how it goes tomorrow. We’ll talk with Pop,” Parker said. “I know Pop is always going to prefer to take low risk.”
When asked about Parker’s outlook, Popovich said, “a lot of it will be what he feels, I think.”
Parker’s injury somewhat muted the celebration in San Antonio following the Spurs’ decisive bounce-back victory that put them two wins shy of the franchise’s fifth championship.
While the Spurs’ role players have been playing incredibly well in these finals, they know they will need Parker’s leadership, guts and unparalleled mastery of the pick-and-roll to bury LeBron James and the Heat. Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard have been revelations so far in this series, scoring the same number of points (130) through the first three games that the Heat’s vaunted trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have managed.
Neal filled in brilliantly for a slowed-down Parker on Tuesday night, scoring 24 points and hitting six 3-pointers to pick up the slack. The Spurs have two more games at home — on Thursday and then Game 5 on Sunday — to try to close out the Heat and avoid having to head back to Miami.
“A lot of the Miami defense is focusing on me and my teammates are taking advantage of it,” Parker said. “They’re playing great and hopefully they can keep it going.”
Still, it feels like a long way to go, because Parker is the engine that keeps this precision machine humming. He entered his fourth NBA Finals at the height of his powers, asserting himself as the best point guard in the game by carrying the Spurs into the showdown with Miami. After scoring 21 points and dishing out six assists in San Antonio’s Game 1 win, Parker was averaging 22.9 points and 7.1 assists this playoffs, the best numbers of his career for a postseason that included more than one series.
He scored 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting in their Game 2 loss and was just 2 for 5 on Tuesday night.
As important as his scoring and distributing have been for the Spurs, the confidence he instills with his steady hand on the throttle may be even bigger. The Spurs aren’t big on swagger, but they play with a different demeanor when he’s on the court slicing and dicing opposing defenses.
“He does a lot for us,” Neal said. “If he’s not scoring, he’s drawing the defense and being a facilitator. He has a great basketball I.Q. He brings a certain amount of confidence and toughness to our team. We definitely need Tony on the floor.”
If Parker has to miss Game 4, it no doubt would inject some life into a Heat team that was dazed and staggered in Game 3. A club that won 66 games in the regular season, including 27 straight at one point, and entered the playoffs as the prohibitive favorite to repeat as champions found itself down by 37 points at one point in the loss.
Without Parker on the floor Thursday night, things would be different.
“He is the head of their snake,” Heat guard Mario Chalmers said. “I feel like that. The whole team feels like that.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra brushed aside a question about Parker’s availability, clearly more disappointed and concerned about his own team’s performance in Game 3 than anything happening with the Spurs.
“If we bring the level of effort and focus that we did last night it doesn’t matter who plays,” Spoelstra said. “We’re hoping he plays. We want both teams to be healthy. We don’t want any excuses and they don’t want any excuses either.”