Spurs guard Tony Parker will play in Game 4 of the NBA Finals after his availability was in doubt because of a mild right hamstring strain.
Parker wouldn’t address his injury at practice Thursday other than saying he was "ready to go." The All-Star was hurt early in the second half of Game 3, which the Spurs won to take a 2-1 lead over the Miami Heat in the best-of-seven series.
Parker is averaging 13.3 points and 6.3 assists in the Finals.
Spurs guard Gary Neal says it’s a "huge brick off our shoulders" that Parker was cleared to play.
Parker had an MRI on Wednesday that revealed a Grade 1 strain of his hamstring, the mildest level of strain. He was listed as day to day.
He 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.
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 IQ. He brings a certain amount of confidence and toughness to our team. We definitely need Tony on the floor.”
If Parker misses Game 4 or is severely limited, 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.”