If the Spurs are to win a sixth NBA championship this spring, they will have to do it without one of their most important players. Four-time All-NBA point guard Tony Parker is out for the remainder of the post-season.
A Thursday morning MRI exam of Parker’s left leg, injured during the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 121-96 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night at AT&T Center revealed what he and the team feared: A complete rupture of his left quadriceps tendon that requires surgery.
The 2007 NBA Finals MVP suffered the injury while attempting a driving jumper with 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Untouched by any Rockets defender on the shot, he crumbled to the floor after releasing the shot, clutching his left thigh and writhing in pain. He was carried to the locker room by teammates Dewayne Dedmon and Dejounte Murray.
The Spurs have not indicated when Parker, two weeks shy of his 35th birthday, will undergo surgery and have given no timetable for his return to the court. The website of the American Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons indicates that complete recovery from a ruptured quadriceps tendon takes at least four months. If Parker’s recovery follows such an arc, he could be ready when the Spurs open training camp for the 2017-18 season, though it seems unlikely that he will retain all the quickness that has allowed him to get to the rim throughout his 16 seasons in San Antonio.
In the meantime, Gregg Popovich must determine how to move forward in the playoffs without a player who had rolled back the clock during the post-season to a time he was an All-NBA selection. After eight playoff games, Parker ranks as the team’s No. 2 playoff scorer, with an average of 15.9 points per game.
It is always risky to predict how Popovich will respond to injuries that require major lineup changes, but his choices going forward are limited. Patty Mills has been Parker’s primary backup all season, but Murray started eight games when Parker battled nagging injuries at mid-season. If Mills gets the starting nod for Friday’s Game 3 at Toyota Center in Houston, 15-year veteran Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, and Murray would also be available for point guard duty.
Kawhi Leonard, the MVP candidate small forward, also figures to spend more time initiating offense.
“We are playing a different style game now, with Kawhi holding the ball a lot and running those high pick and rolls and creating for others,” Ginobili said after Game 2, when it was apparent that Parker’s injury was serious. “We don’t need, as much as in the past, a point guard that creates for everybody and runs all those pick and rolls. So, in that sense, I guess we’re going to have to find rotations without point guards for moments.”