Having already missed eight consecutive games due to an ankle injury, Parker's return was short-lived, after a sore neck left him sidelined for a pair of contests. The injury added to a long list of health-related issues for the Spurs and left doubt about Parker's health going forward.
Friday night, against the Sacramento Kings, the explosive guard showed no signs of distress. A stat line of 22 points—on 69 percent shooting—and 10 assists confirmed the common belief that Parker's play would decide their postseason fate.
As the team's floor general, the Spurs succeed and fail in correspondence with Parker, and while they have proven that they can remain competitive despite his absences, true dominance is unattainable without the All-Star.
The statistics are a clear indication of this correlation. When Parker sits, the Spurs offensive production diminishes significantly, with a mere plus-2.8 during his breaks. Conversely, the Spurs find themselves at a plus-10.3 when Parker is on the court.
Similarly, Parker averages just 17.3 points (on 43 percent shooting) and 6.1 assists when the team loses, and while those statistics remain above average, they are notably lower than his 21.9 points (56 percent from the floor) and 8.0 assists in wins.
In addition to statistics, Parker's role within the Spurs organization ensures that he'll determine how long the Spurs remain competitive during the playoffs.
As a veteran team, older stars like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili play with monitored minutes, and while the same holds true with Parker in the regular season, one can expect a drastic increase come playoff time.
At 30 years of age, Parker's experience—not his dotage—is the reason for his label as a veteran. In fact, Parker is in the prime of his career, but he has already built up an impressive resume to date.
Though Tim Duncan has been the face of San Antonio for the past decade, his resurgence has not changed the fact that Parker is the leader of the team.
When Parker struggles, the team struggles—with the inverse holding true as well. Duncan—though significantly more talented—has a legitimate frontcourt partner in Tiago Splitter, who is capable of leading the Spurs in the post if necessary.
Parker, on the other hand, is more or less irreplaceable. Though Nando de Colo has shown flashes of talent, the rookie point guard cannot be relied on in the playoffs as a consistent playmaker.
The NBA—especially in the playoffs—has become a superstar's league, and Tony Parker is near the front of the pack. The playoff path will match him up against several other star-studded teams, and whether the opponent be the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Golden State Warriors, Parker can count on meeting up with another league hotshot.
Especially if the Spurs find themselves playing the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Los Angeles Clippers, Parker's role—of countering the opposing point guard's attack—will grow even more important. Whether it be Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul, Parker has the talent to outplay his competitor, and whether or not he succeeds in doing so may dictate the series' results.
Parker is in the prime of his career and has already proven himself as a leader. In his best season yet, few will disagree that his importance is at an all-time high, just as many will conclude that continued injury problems will spell doom for San Antonio.
Though the Spurs have studs like Tim Duncan as well as budding role players like Kawhi Leonard to carry slack, the team is too reliant on Parker to win a championship without his excellent play.
The team has talent and is a potential title contender, but whether or not it will achieve its ultimate goal will coincide with Tony Parker, and whether or not his superstar play continues.