The San Antonio Spurs were on a three-game romp at home since Tony Parker sprained his ankle but like all streaks, this one also came to an end. However, it wasn’t just a bump in the road to a third straight No. 1 playoff seed; it was the opposite of what had been going on for the previous week. The Spurs let the Portland Trail Blazers run away with things in a 30-point win by the away team right before the reigning Western Conference champs come to town.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder battle the Boston Celtics at home on Sunday, the Spurs are trying to make sure they are in the right frame of mind to compete in a playoff-like game at home against the young team that’s right up I-35 past Dallas. With Parker in the lineup, there wouldn’t be any question as to whether the Spurs are ready for such a matchup at this point in the season, even after a blowout loss. But without their new leader, it will be the first tough mental test for San Antonio this season.
By now, everyone knows the Spurs are Parker’s team and they flow through him on both ends of the floor. Although they’ve been very good on the offensive end since Parker’s injury, there’s really no concept of identity for the Spurs in a game that could very easily be yet another preview of the Western Conference Finals matchup.
Kendrick Perkins‘ physical play is too much for Tim Duncan at this point in his career without someone like Parker to take the pressure off him on offense. Granted, Duncan is only playing around 30 minutes per game, but Manu Ginobili–who is also playing fewer minutes this season–has proven that he can’t take over a game anymore like he used to. So without either member of the Big Three able to shoulder the load during Parker’s absence, the Spurs are not only going to have to turn to a more balanced attack as they have over the past week, but youngsters like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are going to have to become stars in games like this.
Now obviously the Spurs can’t treat every game against a decent team like it’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but this is the first real test they’ve had since Parker went down and if he was to miss time during the playoffs, San Antonio needs to know exactly how it stacks up with a surefire title contender like Oklahoma City. Guys like Leonard, Green and even Tiago Splitter are going to have to be more than just quality contributors for the Spurs to win this game, assuming the Thunder treat it with the playoff atmosphere that’s expected.