SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker met with Gregg Popovich before Sunday’s 94-86 loss against the Indiana Pacers, and the coach told him he “thought it was time” to go with someone else in the starting lineup.
So, with second-year man Dejounte Murray hitting the court with the starters at point guard, Parker came off the bench for the 21st time of his 17-year career (postseason included), and for the first time since the 2010 playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks.
“I was like, ‘Oh, no problem,'” an upbeat Parker said of his reaction to Popovich’s decision. “Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], that day’s going to come. And if Pop sees something that is good for the team, I’ll try to do my best. I support Pop’s decision, and I’ll try to help [Dejounte Murray] out as best I can, and try to be the best I can in that second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”
After undergoing surgery to repair a torn quadriceps tendon last May, Parker spent seven months working through the rehabilitation process, and returned to the lineup Nov. 27 in a win over the Mavericks. Throughout Parker’s return, the Spurs have worked to manage the veteran’s minutes. But Parker admitted to “hitting a wall” recently, saying “I’m just more focused on my leg because I know I [still] have another two months before I feel 100 percent.”
“It’s getting there. I just have to keep working on it, and just be patient,” Parker added. “[Cavaliers guard] Isaiah Thomas, he talked about that. When you first come back you have the adrenaline. I had all the energy, and the first 10 games I was feeling great. Then I hit that wall. Because for seven months you’re working so hard on your rehab to try to come back, and you have the adrenaline, and you have the juice. The last seven or eight games, I felt like I was hitting a wall because I worked so hard to come back fast. At the same time I was hitting the wall, I twisted my ankle. So, I felt like it was just bad timing with everything. But at the end of the day, you have to find a way to produce, and I have confidence in myself. I was talking to my doctor, and he told me that’s normal that you’re going to hit the wall. It’s at 10 or 11 months that you’re really, really back. They always say the second year, you’ll play even better than the first year back. So that’s why I have to be patient.”
In the four previous games before the team’s loss Sunday to Indiana, Parker had connected on just 9-of-32 attempts for 22 points and 15 assists. The battered Spurs, already playing without star forward Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gay (heel bursitis) and Ginobili (thigh contusion), had also just played six of their past seven games on the road going into Sunday’s matchup at the AT&T Center.
Coming off the bench against the Pacers, Parker scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting to go with five assists. Parker also knocked down his 500th career 3-pointer. Parker is now one of just four players in NBA history with 500 3-pointers or more to go with 18,000 points or more and 6,500 assists or more, joining the likes of LeBron James, Gary Payton and John Stockton.
“I’m still planning on being very productive. I think I showed it tonight,” Parker said. “I’ll try to be productive, come in and run the team with whoever’s in the second unit and try to be the best I can.”
Popovich, meanwhile, said “we’ll see” when asked whether he planned in the future to continue to use Murray in the starting lineup with Parker coming off the bench.
San Antonio envisioned Murray as the heir apparent to Parker when it selected him with the 29th pick in the 2016 draft.
He contributed eight points on 3-of-8 from the floor with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in addition to committing four turnovers in his 15th start of the season.
Spurs shooting guard Danny Green said he learned about Popovich’s decision “right before the game,” but wasn’t told why.
“It’s above my pay grade, it’s above my head,” Green said. “At the start, it was different. But I think Dejounte did a great job of coming in and pushing the pace. I think that’s what they wanted him to do [with] working Tony in with the pick-and-roll game. But Dejounte gets it up the floor. He’s kind of the road runner. So, we’re using him efficiently with obviously matchups defensively; his long arms, his athleticism and rebounding. And offensively, just pushing the pace and trying to give us more movement. I don’t know, I just had to guess. But you’d have to ask big boss.”
The Spurs committed 20 turnovers against the Pacers in losing their second outing in a row. San Antonio hadn’t lost two in a row since Dec. 12 and Dec. 15.
“It was not something expected,” Spurs center Pau Gasol said of the switch in the starting lineup, “but at the same time, we’ve played with both point guards before. Dejounte’s been playing well. We have to worry about ourselves and do our best to understand where we are at, play hard and play together as always. That’s what is keeping us alive.”