Breathe easier Spurs fans, Tony Parker pronounced himself fit and ready to go for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Monday night.
Parker left Wednesday’s series-clinching win over Portland with a Grade 1 left hamstring strain, casting doubt whether the veteran point guard would be ready to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder when the West finals opened in San Antonio.
Parker told reporters after Sunday’s practice that he fully expects to be on the floor for the opening tip.
"It’s doing better," he said of his hamstring. "Hopefully it will be even better tomorrow."
Oklahoma City won’t be as lucky. The Thunder will be without power forward Serge Ibaka, who’s been ruled out of the playoffs after suffering a calf strain in the Clippers’ series. Ibaka has given the Spurs fits in the past at both ends of the court with his rare combination of strength, agility and extreme athleticism. He averaged 14.0 points, 11.5 and 4.0 blocks in Oklahoma City’s four-game sweep of San Antonio during the regular season.
Parker, though, isn’t so sure Ibaka won’t pull a Willis Reed and make a surprise appearance at AT&T Center tomorrow night or at some point in the series.
"I don’t really believe it," Parker said. "I’ll believe it when I see it tomorrow that he’s not on the court. It’s hard to believe. We’ll see tomorrow."
As for his own injury, Parker has grown accustomed to dealing with some sort of malady at this point of the season. He fought through a Grade 2 strain last year during the NBA Finals, which impacted his performance against the Miami Heat.
"That’s part of life," Parker said. "That’s part of basketball. Everybody goes through injuries. I’m used to it."
Not being at 100 percent â Parker admitted there was still some tightness in the hamstring â figures to make guarding Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook that much more challenging. Staying in front of and just keeping up with Westbrook is hard enough when completely healthy.
Parker said the Spurs just need to play their game. That’s pushing the ball, playing with pace and making good decisions. Take the first easy pass and don’t try to over-create. In Parker’s words, keep it simple.
"Ball movement and execution," he added. "We have to execute a lot better, because against them you can’t go half-speed. We have to go full speed and we have to be perfect because they’re younger than us and more athletic than us, so everything has to be more perfect."
The five-day break since the Portland series has allowed Parker and Spurs plenty of time to rest and hone in on the Thunder.
"For the whole team it was great," said Parker, the Spurs’ leading scorer in the regular season and playoffs. "We had some good practices and went through a lot of stuff we can do better. Each round you pass, the competition is even better. OKC is a very good team. We’ve prepared pretty good and hopefully we can have a good first game."
The season sweep isn’t weighing on their minds. San Antonio’s loss to the Thunder in the 2012 West finals also doesn’t seem to matter for the playoffs’ overall top seeds.
"What’s happened in the past has nothing to do with what’s going to happen now," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said rather convincingly.
The Spurs are in the West finals for the third consecutive year, which is a first for the franchise. Even when the Spurs won four titles in nine years from 1999-2007, they never made back-to-back trips this deep.
That accomplishment doesn’t seem to register much with Parker. The Spurs are playing for much more.
"Especially in the West to go to the conference finals is very hard, but here in San Antonio we want to win championships," Parker said. "Conference finals is great, I don’t want to take it for granted, but we want to win the whole thing."
The healthier Parker is, the better the Spurs’ chances.
Follow Art Garcia on Twitter @ArtGarcia92