The Spurs confirmed everyone’s worst fears Thursday, when they announced Tony Parker will miss the rest of the playoffs with a ruptured left quad. Parker suffered the injury during San Antonio’s Game 2 blowout of the Houston Rockets, a series currently tied at 1–1.
At first blush, Parker’s injury is not a death sentence for the Spurs’ Finals hopes. Patty Mills has been a capable replacement for Parker throughout the season, and has even been more valuable in some cases, thanks largely to his three-point shooting and defensive energy. In fact, Gregg Popovich would be well served to substitute Mills into Parker’s place from the Game 2 starting lineup. That group—Mills, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol—posted a 24.1 net rating during the season.
During the regular season, the Spurs were actually better with Parker off the court. San Antonio’s net rating improved from 5.9 to 9.3 in the minutes Parker sat. The playoffs have been a different story, however. Parker has looked considerably better in the postseason, and the Spurs have been playing better offensively and defensively with him in the lineup.
While Mills will likely see his role increase considerably, the bigger concern for the Spurs will be who takes over the backup point guard minutes. Dejounte Murray will be called to step up, and Popovich at least had enough foresight to give Murray some amount of minutes during the regular season. A first-round pick out of Washington, Murray played in 38 games during the season, including eight starts. Ultimately, if the Spurs can break even in the minutes Murray spends on the court, the Parker injury won’t be devastating.
Parker’s absence will be felt all over the court, however. Leonard—who has already carried an uncharacteristically large burden for a Spurs team—will likely be called upon to do even more. Leonard could be asked to initiate more of the offense and takeover some of Parker’s playmaking duties, and those extra possessions of him controlling the ball could accelerate how much he becomes fatigue during games. And if the Spurs are committed to playing small—one of Pop’s key adjustments from Game 2—losing Parker affects some of their lineup flexibility.
Popovich also had a lot of trust in Parker in end-of-game situations, and though it’s hard to quantify, Parker’s experience in extremely high-pressure moments likely added some comfort for San Antonio during clutch moments.
Putting the ball in Leonard’s hands more often shouldn’t really be a problem, but Parker’s injury needs to be a serious wake-up call for some of the supporting cast. Leonard, for all his talents, likely can’t beat the Rockets by himself, and more consistent play from the likes of Green and Aldridge would go a long way in mitigating the loss of Parker. Aldridge has disappeared for stretches of the playoffs, while Green has been shooting under 30% from three during the postseason.
The Spurs already had their hands full trying to get past the Rockets, and they wouldn’t have been favorites in a conference finals matchup against the Warriors even with Parker. San Antonio still has the talent to advance to the next round and give Golden State a fight. But as is the case with most playoff injuries, it’s not always the next man up who is the problem, it‘s the player after him. If Murray can stay afloat, and the Spurs’ other stars rise to the challenge, San Antonio very much still has a chance to succeed.