|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
SAN ANTONIO -- No Tony Parker, no problem for the San Antonio Spurs.
Well, at least not Wednesday night, when the NBA's most consistent contending franchise slammed the door on the inexperienced Portland Trail Blazers despite Parker playing only 10 scoreless minutes, sitting out the entire second half to nurse a tight left hamstring.
|Tim Duncan won't have to mix it up with Robin Lopez anymore, awaiting the Clippers-OKC winner.|
The Spurs, who beat the Blazers by double-digits in all four of their wins in this series, are far too savvy to say whether they'd prefer to see the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers in the conference finals. But San Antonio certainly wouldn't mind if the OKC-LA series went the full seven games.
A team with a core of a 38-year-old power forward, a 36-year-old sixth man and a point guard who turns 32 this weekend needs all the rest it can get, particularly after the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks surprisingly pushed the Spurs to seven games in the first round.
"It takes a toll on everybody," said Tim Duncan, the power forward who has been the focal point of the Spurs' four championship teams. "You want to get to the end, you've got to go through it. We'll use this time to rest up and work on our bodies. Hopefully, when that next series comes around, we'll be refreshed. It's good to have a couple of days in there because it has been bang, bang, bang so far."
The hope for Parker is that he left the floor early enough to prevent a tight hamstring from becoming an injury that nags him for the rest of the playoffs.
Coach Gregg Popovich didn't have much to say on the subject -- "I don't know anything about it" -- and Parker had left the locker room by the time the media made its way in after the game. However, several Spurs expressed cautious optimism that the extra days of rest would allow the engine of the San Antonio offense to be fully revved up for the next round."We hope for him to be back and healthy," said Manu Ginobili, who could use the time off to rediscover his shooting touch after going 14-of-49 from the floor in this series. "It is too early to tell. He has an MRI tomorrow. I don't know what's going to happen.
"If we want to have a chance to make it to the Finals, we need him healthy."
It'd certainly be preferable to have a full-speed version of Parker, who struggled in the last two games of the Spurs' NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat last season while dealing with a mild strain of his right hamstring. But it'd be silly to dismiss the Spurs regardless of Parker's MRI results.
Believe it or not, the Spurs won at a slightly higher clip without Parker than with him during the regular season. They were 11-3 (.786) when he sat with a variety of maladies, which was actually the official reason for his most extended rest of the season around the All-Star break. They were 51-17 (.750) when Parker played.
And the Spurs had no problem putting away Portland without Parker, even though Ginobili (nine points, 4-of-11 shooting) had another off game and Duncan (16 points, eight rebounds) was just decent by his standards. San Antonio's ringless role players picked up the slack, taking a six-point lead when Parker exited with 8:45 remaining in the first half and turning it into a lopsided victory.
Patty Mills, the former Blazers towel-waver who has emerged as a terrific backup to Parker this season, pumped in 18 points in 26 minutes. Rising-star small forward Kawhi Leonard and shooting guard Danny Green led the Spurs with 22 points apiece.
"We have a team full of guys that can get it done," said Green, who was 9-of-13 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. "A lot of character, a lot of guys that are capable. On any given night, anybody can get hot, regardless of who's out and who's not."
This was the kind of performance from Leonard in particular that makes it easy to see why some in San Antonio believe he'll eventually take the torch from the proven champions on the roster. He's a ridiculously talented 22-year-old whose athletic prowess was especially evident during a couple of highlight moments while the Spurs made a run in the third quarter.
Leonard, who was 9-of-15 from the floor and also had seven rebounds and five steals, had a pair of poster-worthy finishes on fast breaks. He displayed a frightening blend of speed and power after coming up with steals, dribbling by the Blazers and soaring for slam dunks, showing an aggression that he occasionally lacks.
"I think he falls back to deferring now and then to the older guys," Popovich said of Leonard. "Whenever he just plays freely and takes what comes -- catch it and shoot it, catch it and drive it, don't think about it, don't try to make a great play, just play the game -- then you get a game out of him like this. It's becoming more and more this kind of game than the defer kind of game."
The Spurs veterans will get some valuable rest to get ready for what they hope is the second half of a title run. It'd sure help if San Antonio's young role players keep rolling like they did in this rout of the Blazers.