The San Antonio Spurs harbor no illusions about their conference finals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even without power forward Serge Ibaka, the Thunder will pose a formidable challenge to the rolling Spurs.
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.
Parker in particular will have to be as close to perfect as he can be.
The 32-year-old suffered a minor hamstring strain during the semifinals and his scoring will be pivotal against the high-octane Thunder. Should he experience continued problems, we could see history repeat itself.
USA Today's Sam Amick offers a reminder of what can happen:
As Parker learned in the 2013 postseason, battling through a hamstring injury at this pivotal part of the season can come at a cost. His Grade 2 right hamstring strain was a major subplot of the seven-game NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat, with Parker somewhat limited in the back-and-forth affair in which even the slightest of edges ultimately made a difference.
Parker does have the luxury of playing alongside an especially deep roster, including backup point guard Patty Mills.
However, there's little margin for error against Oklahoma City and its duo of superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. San Antonio will need to fire on all cylinders, and Parker's an integral component of that attack.
Though he averaged just 16.7 points per game during the regular season, the team relies more heavily upon him as points become harder to come by in the playoffs.
The Spurs may need similar outputs to outscore OKC. Durant and Westbrook alone can contribute north of 60 points on any given night. With Tim Duncan settling in as a complementary player and Manu Ginobili producing unevenly, basic math tells you the Spurs have to get their points from somewhere.
Kawhi Leonard will be one option. A supporting cast that includes role players like Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw will also help. To make the most of those options, however, San Antonio's system must be executed without any hiccups.
That brings us back to the "perfection" Parker mentions.
San Antonio relies on constant ball and personnel movement. If things go even slightly awry, it can lead to bouts with turnovers and bad shots—or, as is sometimes the case, over-passing.
The Thunder excel at taking advantage of mistakes and will look to make the Spurs pay mightily for each and every one. With a number of young athletes who can run the floor—including Spur-killing reserve guard Reggie Jackson—the Spurs have to keep their own offense flowing.
Anything less than perfection could interrupt a return to the NBA Finals and Duncan's quest for a fifth ring.