Tony Parker’s injury means Rockets should reach conference finals

Tony Parker’s injury means Rockets should reach conference finals



May 4, 2017
Updated: May 4, 2017 9:22pm

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The Rockets should soon be in the Western Conference finals.

That’s all there is to it.

Losing Tony Parker is that big for the Spurs. And even if Kawhi Leonard ends up as the best player on the court in this second-round series – he has been through two uneven, lopsided games – there’s no way San Antonio should be able to match the firepower and depth of the Mike D’Antoni Show.


This is why Rockets general manager Daryl Morey – a leading contender for NBA Executive of the Year – added Lou Williams at the trade deadline. Why the Rockets have two interchangeable centers in Clint Capela and Nene. Why finally healthy ex-Pelicans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have been so essential to the Rockets’ success in 2016-17. Why James Harden has been able to defer to multiple scorers (Pat Beverley, Trevor Ariza) spread across the hardwood all season, and trust his teammates to make the net sway.

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All for times like this.

The NBA’s second season is a thrilling two-month marathon often colored by unpredictable injuries. Stephen Curry never looked right in last year’s Finals. The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead (in case you haven’t heard) and wasted a league-record 73 regular-season wins when they fell to The King in Cleveland.

Parker, almost 35, entered the league in 2001 as a 19-year-old rookie, and was in his 16th season before he suddenly crumpled to the court in Game 2, silencing ATT Center and potentially ending the year for the NBA’s second-best team.


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Rockets


Too much firepower

When the Spurs torched the Rockets 121-96 on Wednesday, Parker was 8-of-13 overall from the floor, 2-of-2 on 3s and recorded 18 points in under 26 minutes. He was his classic elusive, shifty, darting self, and San Antonio was plus-18 when Parker was on the court.

The Spurs’ second-leading scorer in the playoffs: Parker. One of the only remaining links to the early foundation of the Spurs’ five-championship dynasty: aging No. 9.

Like Harden lifts his Rockets, Leonard carries the Spurs. But the ball often started in Parker’s hands, and the core of San Antonio’s system-heavy offense runs through its trademark point guard.

Until the 8:52 mark of the fourth quarter in Game 2.

That’s when Parker ruptured his left quadriceps tendon, and the Rockets were immediately given a series-changing moment they never could have created themselves.

I picked the Spurs to win in seven games before this Interstate 10 battle started. I’ll now be stunned – heck, just like you, disappointed – if these Rockets don’t have enough to finish off San Antonio.

At most, five games remain. The Rockets are guaranteed to play the majority (three) at Toyota Center.

The Spurs had three players averaging double figures in scoring during the postseason. Now it’s down to two (Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge) with Parker lost for the postseason, and maybe for good.

The Rockets have six averaging at least 10.3 points per game in the playoffs: Harden, Williams, Gordon, Nene, Beverley and Capela.

Depth. Firepower. Too much to overcome.

San Antonio worshipers proudly will fire back with Patty Mills, Jonathon Simmons and Dejounte Murray.

I love Mills’ super-swift game and remember watching him play during his rookie season in Portland, when he couldn’t get on the court with Brandon Roy’s Trail Blazers.

I’ll also say this right now. If the 55-27 Rockets, the third-best team in the NBA this season, can’t get three more wins versus some Popovichian combination of Mills, Simmons and Murray in Parker’s absence, then Les Alexander might have actually hired the wrong coach.

Aldridge is San Antonio’s second-best player and hasn’t come close to being a difference-maker in this series.

Pau Gasol and David Lee have been on the earth a combined 70 years. Manu Ginobili is more of a name than a real threat at this point in his 15-year career.

Leonard can’t do it all

If these Rockets are as good as we think they are, they should have an answer for all that.

Leonard will be asked to do so much. Replace Parker, defend Harden, play 40 minutes a night and score 30-plus a game. Not even LeBron James can do all that.

I can easily imagine Popovich mixing all his pieces together, shaking everything up and producing another victory like only the NBA’s best coach can.

Could San Antonio split the next two at Toyota Center? Maybe.

But the Spurs just had one of their arms cut off, and the Rockets have Harden, Gordon, Anderson, Williams, Beverley, Capela …

If D’Antoni and his staff get this right, the waves should keep rolling.

And the Rockets should be back in the conference finals for the second time in three years.