With Tony Parker out for the rest of the playoffs with an injury, the San Antonio Spurs play Game 3 of their Western Conference playoff series in Houston against the Rockets.
Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
Western Conference semifinals
(Series tied 1-1)
Game 1: Rockets 126, Spurs 99, Monday, AT&T Center
Game 2: Spurs 121, Rockets 96, Wednesday, AT&T Center
Game 3: Friday, 8:30 p.m., Houston
Game 4: Sunday, 8 p.m., Houston
Game 5: Tuesday, May 9, (time TBD), AT&T Center
Game 6: Thursday, May 11, (time TBD), Houston*
Game 7: Sunday, May 14, (time TBD), AT&T Center*
SAN ANTONIO – Their floor leader felled by an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the playoffs, the Spurs face an arduous task in Houston on Friday night.
For the first time in 16 years, the Silver and Black will take the floor for a playoff game without point guard Tony Parker, who ruptured a left quadriceps tendon in the fourth quarter of a 121-96 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
And here’s something else to ponder: The Spurs haven’t started a postseason game without Tim Duncan, who retired last July, and Parker since 1996.
Rookie Dejounte Murray, 20, will start for Parker and Patty Mills will continue to come off the bench.
Parker, who turns 35 on May 17, was only 19 when he became the Silver and Black’s starting point guard five games into his rookie season in 2001-02. Parker has appeared in 221 playoff games since then, the fifth most in NBA history. The Spurs haven't played in a postseason game without Parker since May 27, 2001, when they were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Parker had surgery Friday morning, the Spurs said.
“Tough loss,” forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “He’s the leader of the team at the PG spot. He’s gets everybody in their spot. He’s been great for us.”
The Spurs’ decisive victory Wednesday night at the AT&T Center tied the series with the Rockets at 1-1. Game 3 is at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Toyota Center in Houston.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Mills said. “We’re all ready to step up.”
With Parker out, the Silver and Black will rely on All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard to take on an even bigger role on offense. He had another stellar performance on both ends of the court in Game 2, finishing with 34 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals and one block.
The evolution of the Spurs’ offense should make it somewhat less difficult, not easier, for them to adjust to playing without Parker, who scored 18 points and had four assists in Game 2.
“The fact that we play a different style now, with Kawhi holding the ball a lot and running the high pick-and-roll and creating for others means we don’t need, as much as in the past, a point guard that creates for everybody,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “If you watch our last eight games, he’s (Leonard) been in a facilitating position a lot, and I see it happening more. It is more or less what (Houston guard James) Harden is doing for them.”
Still, Ginobili said, the Spurs are going to miss Parker on and off the court.
“Besides the fact that Tony is our point guard, we are going to miss him having him around, his experience, his big shots. It is more than just who is going to start. We are going to miss his presence. We just have to go compete and try to play our best games in Houston.”
In addition to being the focal point of the offense, Leonard has taken the lead role in guarding Harden, one of the top scorers and playmakers in the league. Harden had 10 assists in Game 2, but he finished with only 13 points, missing 14 of 17 shots. Harden scored 20 points and dished out 14 assists in the Rockets’ 126-99 rout of the Spurs in the series opener.
“It’s very challenging,” Leonard said of guarding Harden. “He’s aggressive all night.”
The same can be said about Leonard when the Spurs have the ball.
“I have to get my team open shots myself, going through a lot of pick and rolls, post touches, and going through double teams. Just want to win the game. It’s a group effort out there.”
After nailing a franchise-record 22 three-pointers in Game 1, the Rockets had “only” 11 in 34 attempts Wednesday night. Trevor Ariza, who led all scorers with 23 points and hit 5 of 10 three-pointers in the series opener, had just two points in Game 2.
“I think we were able to get a feel for them the first game,” Leonard said. “Just trying to contest all shots, really limit them to one possession, don’t let them rebound the basketball on the offensive end and get them off the 3-point line.”
After combining for 63 points in Game 1, Ariza, Harden and Clint Capela had 29 collectively Wednesday night. The big gun for Houston in Game 2 was forward Ryan Anderson, who went 7 of 9, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, and finished with 18 points.
Spurs guard Danny Green, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shots, also played a key role on defense and drew praise from coach Gregg Popovich.
“Danny always seems to be underrated defensively,” Popovich said. “He does a good job. He’s helped us in a lot of situations, playing a lot of different kinds of people.”
While overshadowed by Leonard, the league’s defensive player of the year the past two seasons, Green is a first-rate defender in his own right.
Green started out guarding Anderson in Game 2, but “ended up on many other guys,” he said. “But my job, just like anybody else, is to make things tough for all of them, not let them get as many open looks from the 3-point line.”
Popovich tweaked his starting lineup in Game 2, pulling David Lee and inserting Pau Gasol at center. Gasol scored only six points but he finished with 13 rebounds and four blocks, both game highs. Aldridge also had a strong game, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
With Parker out, the Spurs are expected to go inside more to Gasol and Aldridge.
“That’s always one of our focal points is to try to try to take advantage of our size,” Aldridge said after Game 2. “We did a little bit better tonight. We can always do better. I think we’ll do better as we go on. They’re very active (defensively) and they understand that they’re undersized, so they’re great at guarding it.
“I’ll get better at it and I think Pau will getter at it, too. I think it’s more about being more patient down there. You see the guys are smaller, and you want to go quick, but it’s about being patient."