Something was wrong with Tony Parker in the second half of the San Antonio Spurs' 109-93 Game 4 loss to the Miami Heat, but the mixed signals coming from coach Gregg Popovich and the point guard aren't clearing up the source of his struggles.
UPDATED by Zach Buckley at 9:10 p.m. ET on June 14
Parker told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports he was "feeling better" and experienced "no extra pain" on Friday morning.
--END OF UPDATE
According to Parker, his tender hamstring was the reason for his post-break swoon.
Tony Parker on his hamstring: "[The next] 2 days, I'm going to make sure I do a lot of treatment and get to 100%. Tonight, I was not 100%."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 14, 2013
Popovich, on the other hand, was quick to shoot down any talk of injury.
Gregg Popovich said Tony Parker is "fine'' and that his hamstring had nothing to do with shaky 2nd half. http://t.co/2PdFP22aVd— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) June 14, 2013
Instead, he gave the Heat credit for scheming to contain Parker.
"Miami did a great job on [Tony Parker in the second half]. They doubled and got the ball out of his hands." - Gregg Popovich— The NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 14, 2013
You'd think that Parker's word would be dispositive, considering it's his hamstring and he's got no reason to concoct an excuse. But Popovich's word is law in San Antonio, so it's hard to pin down where the truth really lies.
Of course, the fact that the Spurs coach was fully apprised of his point guard's situation at halftime tends to give Parker's story the edge.
Parker had to convince Pop to let him play, said he felt fatigued and couldn't get his lift in the second half.— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) June 14, 2013
Leave it to Popovich, the NBA's version of Bill Belichick, to try to preserve any available advantage by obscuring the truth. He's got nothing to gain by letting the Heat know that Parker is hobbled, so it makes sense that he's withholding information.
At any rate, Parker clearly wasn't right after halftime. He played brilliantly in the first two quarters, amassing 15 points and inspiring some to want to put the hamstring issue to bed for good.
I think we're done talking about Tony Parker's hamstring, right?— Matt Winer (@matt_winer) June 14, 2013
After leaving Game 3 early to deal with the injury, Parker was right back to his usual tricks in Game 4, showing no ill effects and pulling off a couple of circus shots to boot.
Maybe the inactivity of halftime caused the hammy to tighten up. Or perhaps Parker tweaked it just before the break. Whatever the cause, Parker went scoreless in the second half, missing all four of his field-goal attempts.
As you might imagine, this is a problem for the Spurs going forward.
Manu Ginobili has been functioning as the team's primary ball-handler when Parker rests, but the Argentine reserve has been playing some of the worst basketball of his career in these NBA Finals. If Parker is hampered, San Antonio will have to choose between running him out there at less than 100 percent or praying Ginobili finds a way to rediscover his vintage form.
Neither option seems especially palatable.
Parker is vitally important to the Spurs, but it's not just because he's a terrific scorer in his own right. It's also because he's the chaotic element that gets Miami's defense out of position. His ability to penetrate and draw help has led to plenty of open looks for his teammates throughout this series.
Tony Parker drive to the basket, kick out to an open Danny Green. Rinse. Repeat.— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 14, 2013
If Parker can't play like himself, the Spurs are in trouble.
Just don't expect Popovich to tell you that.