SAN ANTONIO – Tony Parker pushed his tender right hamstring as much as he possibly could in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and it will be hard to find a player in this series that needs the two days of rest before Game 5 more.
Parker had 15 points and nine assists in San Antonio's 109-93 loss to the Miami Heat that evened the series at 2-2. But he was held scoreless in the second half as the Heat pulled away. Now he gets two full days for rest and treatment before the two teams play again on Sunday.
"It's going to be huge for me," Parker said after the game. "Obviously, definitely got fatigued in the second half. Those two days I'm going to make sure I do a lot of treatment and get to 100 percent. Tonight I was not 100 percent. By Sunday, that's my goal, to be good to go."
Parker said after the game that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was hesitant to let him play after his star point guard tested it out in the morning shootaround and deemed himself ready to play. But Parker convinced his coach to let him start, and his strong play early sparked the Spurs before LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over.
"Pop was not really happy, meaning I wanted to play and took a little risk," Parker said. "So I'm happy I'm not worse."
Popovich said on Friday that Parker "is fine." But the Spurs will need him to be more than just "fine" if they are going to bounce back from a difficult loss. If the Spurs lose again at home on Sunday and fall behind 3-2 heading back to Miami, they're in big trouble.
"If he can't play at full speed, others will have to pick up the slack," Popovich said. "And they will or they won't."
Parker played with a heavy wrap on this leg to try to stabilize his hamstring, and he had to briefly go back to the locker room in the second half to get it wrapped even tighter. Playing against an aggressive Heat perimeter defense that pressed him hard on pick-and-rolls, Parker can't afford to have anything holding him back.
"Give credit to Miami in the second half," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. "They did a much better job. All in all, I thought he played pretty well."
SPOELSTRA'S GAMBLE: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made a big gamble when he decided to shuffle his starting lineup in the middle of the finals. With the Spurs' big men — Duncan and Tiago Splitter — clogging the lane and refusing to let James or Wade get anywhere near the rim, Spoelstra elected to bench Udonis Haslem in favor of sharp-shooter Mike Miller.
What Spoelstra was losing in toughness and defense in the paint he gained in floor spacing, with the Spurs needing to pay more attention to Miller out near the 3-point line after he went 9 for 10 from long range in the first three games. And while Miller did not score a point and only attempted one shot in 21 minutes of play, Spoelstra thinks his mere presence on the floor made a huge difference.
"It was about as impactful an 0-for-1 game as you can have in the finals," Spoelstra said on Friday. "And Mike knows what he brings onto the table for us. So many things on both ends of the court. And each series is different. It presents its own challenges. This we feel is the best move for now against the Spurs."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tried to stay with Splitter in the lineup at the start of the game despite the Heat playing so small. But that meant Splitter had to guard Wade, and Popovich abandoned that game plan 47 seconds into the first quarter.
Spoelstra said he made the change to put the Heat in a more comfortable position, not to force the Spurs out of what was working for them.
"That wasn't our intention. It was to help us in what we think we needed for that game to help us win," he said. "But we're not trying to play chess with guys to see if they blink first. That's not it."
YOU SAID IT, POP, NOT US: Popovich has gained a reputation as an irascible grouch, the kind of guy who barks at his players when they make a mistake, hounds officials during the game and dismisses questions from reporters with one-word answers.
He was seen dressing down Duncan, the best player in franchise history and widely considered the best power forward the game has ever seen, after a costly turnover in the second quarter. In some ways, his fiery demeanor seems to run counter to the franchise's robotic collective personality that is credited for allowing the team to not get too down after difficult defeats.
"If anybody is crazy in the group, it's me," Popovich said. "They pretty much have an even keel. Timmy Duncan sets the tone, and he just competes. Whether he does well or whether he does poorly, game in, game out, year in, year out, he competes and people just follow that."
BASKETBALL ECONOMICS: It's well known that Heat owner Micky Arison broke the bank to unite Wade, James and Chris Bosh three years ago.
Through the first three games of these finals, Miami's three All-Stars had yet to deliver the kind of jaw-dropping collective performance that warranted the big money expenditure. Then the three combined for 85 points and 30 rebounds to carry the Heat to the Game 4 victory, prompting the Heat's resident economics expert to give his stamp of approval.
"That's what you call ROI, return on investment," Heat forward and Duke graduate Shane Battier said. "That's money well spent tonight. When those guys are rolling, we just want to support them and make the tough role plays; to make their jobs a little bit easier."
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