San Antonio Spurs' MVP Tony Parker Keeps Foot Glued to Gas Pedal

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IFebruary 20, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 11:  Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs drives for a shot attempt against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on February 11, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

A strained left oblique muscle and a strained right calf sidelined much of the optimism in the Alamo City after the Spurs’ stunning road victory against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Happenstance and a colossal error allowed Gary Neal to send Saturday’s game to overtime. Tony Parker kept San Antonio within sniffing distance.

As the Spurs prepare for uncertain life without Manu Ginobili and forward-center Tiago Splitter, No. 9 is one reason the team can survive the Rodeo Road Trip’s difficult finishing kick.

Ginobili flew back to San Antonio and presumably will remain shelved until after the All-Star break. The squad tallied a 15-7 mark sans its Argentine heart and soul and can tread water for at least three more nights in his absence.

Filling Splitter’s 6’11” void will require unenviable patchwork on Gregg Popovich’s part. The roster now features just three healthy frontcourt players, and two of them cannot play together without surrendering size and an alarming field-goal percentage.

Get ready for the nauseating, ghastly defensive forward-center combo of Matt Bonner and Dejuan Blair.

GM R.C. Buford and Popovich tempted this fate when they let Craig Smith, Josh McRoberts and other potential insurance big men sign with Western Conference playoff competitors. The Spurs ended training camp with four bodies up front and eschewed opportunities to add depth there.

Rolling with Duncan, Splitter, Blair and Bonner seemed risky from the start. With Splitter reduced to a spectator for tonight’s tilt in Salt Lake City, an improved defense should expect to regress.

The 6’7” Blair’s line of defense begins with swiping at the ball and ends if the opposing behemoth can execute a few dribbles and get to the basket.

Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson figure to deprave the Spurs’ depleted frontcourt tonight. LaMarcus Aldridge, back in Portland’s lineup earlier than projected after an ankle sprain, will cause fits and might give Popovich the dry heaves.

Utah Jazz sideline chief Tyrone Corbin would be foolish not to hand Enes Kanter 25-plus minutes in this match. The 6’11” Turkish lottery selection averages 14 minutes, five points and five rebounds.

Just give Coach of the Year to Popovich if he can figure out a way to slow the Millsap-Jefferson tandem plus Kanter with Tim Duncan certain to play less than he did Saturday.

Popovich knows better than to leave his 35-year-old anchor on the court for 41 minutes more than once or twice a month.

No one would blame San Antonio’s coach for engaging in prayer.

In the next 24 hours, Parker may answer that beseeching.

Durable, unflinching and sagacious as ever, the Frenchman merits MVP consideration. He belongs in that conversation alongside a self-proclaimed King and a Durantula.

LeBron James or Kevin Durant will hoist the nugatory, bogus honor in the second round of the postseason, when the league tends to complete its no-criteria-necessary awards season.

There is no objective way to determine which NBA player is “most valuable.” Even the formula Larry Bird devised for that purpose is flawed to a fault.

I will save that rant for another column on another day.

That mentioning Parker’s name in the same sentence as James and Durant this season does not inspire cackles and catcalls speaks to his impact.

Grantland Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons tweeted this while taking in Saturday’s joust at Staples Center: “Chris Paul’s ‘vote for me if you hate LeBron’ MVP campaign is taking a severe hit this afternoon. Tony Parker is best player on floor.”

Sports Guy followers, then, can forgive Simmons for suggesting two seasons ago that Buford deal Parker to the Washington Wizards for Randy Foye and the fifth pick.

If CP3 can cough up a rare chance at triumph versus San Antonio, needing a pair of free throws to seal the outcome, Simmons gets a pass for a ridiculous trade idea that made sense to him in October, 2009.

The Spurs refuse to exit another top-seed pursuit, because Parker will not let them.

He told a French newspaper last summer the fateful 2010-2011 campaign was “our last chance.”

His recent screw-it-I’m-going-to-score binge means more than his attempt at backtracking just before training camp.

“You know newspapers need stories and to talk about stuff, and I’m in a great situation to know what it is,” he said with defiance.

What he may have said in passing across the pond in May 2011 is irrelevant in February 2012. He speaks with his game now, and that matters.

When San Antonio needs a late bucket these days, Parker blows by as many as three defenders to finish at the rim.

If he cannot find a path to the cup, he pulls up from mid-range and sinks the opponent with a calculated hit.

Parker reached for another level with a 42-point, nine-assist magnum opus to subdue the conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.

He dropped 37 on the Sixers to help the Spurs secure a shocking win in Philly. His dauntless leadership is the chief reason San Antonio won its first three matchups with Memphis, the team responsible for an unceremonious first-round ouster last spring.

“Let me be clear,” Parker told the San Antonio Express-News. “I still want Manu on the floor.”

No one who follows the Spurs needs any elaboration there.

Parker played this way in 2009, carrying the Spurs to a second-place finish, only to watch as the Dallas Mavericks negated his dominant outings with more firepower in another first-round pratfall. Pouring in 40 did not matter when the Mavs unearthed double-figure performances from every nook and cranny of the roster.

The need for additional scoring punch yielded a series of transactions that transformed an ancient supporting cast into an adolescent one.

Danny Green, Dejuan Blair, Neal, Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and even James Anderson in spurts have all made meaningful contributions for a team poised to take advantage of a wide-open West.

Injuries to Splitter and Ginobili should temper that sanguineness a bit.

Nothing will help Popovich cope with Saturday’s casualties more than Parker continuing to abuse the daylights out of opposing backcourts. He was the one constant keeping the squad above .500 when the coach bemoaned this edition as the worst defensive group he's had.

I have published enough profiles of the point guard’s rise from a kid who couldn’t finish a layup to the standard for converting at the cylinder in traffic.

Just remember this: He did not enter the NBA as a chosen one or a top draft pick expected to amass Hall of Fame numbers from his first opening tip.

Few point guards have ever endured more castigation from a coach than Parker.

Popovich’s incessant scolding paid off years ago. Now, both are reaping the immense benefits of a once tense, frustrating partnership.

A road trip that ties for the longest in franchise history will send San Antonio to Salt Lake City, Portland and Denver in the next four days. A 1-2 finish would still qualify this sojourn as one of the finest in the previous decade. Even if Parker goes nuts, a 2-1 finale seems improbable.

The Spurs tend to stink at the Rose Garden, and Energy Solutions Arena remains one of the league’s toughest atmospheres for visiting foes.

An upright Ginobili and Splitter would make sweeping the week a reasonable goal.

The team’s brass knows how far it will go in the playoffs without those two in the lineup.

Where would the Spurs be, though, sans Parker, aching back and all, playing with the confidence of someone who can outplay any heralded floor general on any night?

They would worry about a lot more than a strained left oblique muscle and a strained right calf.

His 30-point masterpiece plus heroic shots from Neal and Bonner snuffed out the Clippers. If he keeps this up, San Antonio may soon turn its collective nose to Oklahoma City.

Parker again has the Spurs within sniffing distance.


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