SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker was like a windup toy that no one knew how long he could keep going because of an ailing right hamstring that threatened to take him out of Game 4 all together.
It turns out Parker had one mesmerizing, tit-for-tat half against LeBron James in him. After that he was spent, the moment at the end of the third quarter depicting his forgettable second half as he lay flat on his back, gassed, incredulous as to how he missed a five-foot floater in the lane that he knows he can make blindfolded.
After a whirling dervish of a first half that must have had the Miami Heat thinking this whole hamstring business was a well-crafted rouse with Parker matching James’ 15 points in a 49-49 halftime tie, Parker went scoreless in the second half — 0-for-4 from the floor — without a single trip to the free-throw line. The Spurs offense faded with him.
James finished with a game-high 33 points and Dwyane Wade busted out his best performance of the playoffs with 32 points, six assists and six steals to run away from the Spurs and tie this riveting NBA Finals series at 2-2. The best news for Parker, he said as he eagerly awaits two off days of rest and treatment before Sunday’s crucial Game 5, was eluding the wrath of his coach Gregg Popovich by avoiding further damage to his hamstring.
Parker, who decided he could play after the morning shootaround despite the Grade I strain that was revealed by an MRI on Wednesday, said his plan was to be honest. If he didn’t feel good after the first quarter, he’d tell Pop and shut it down.
“It was kind of weak,” said Parker, who finished with 15 points on 7-for-16 shooting and nine assists in 32 minutes. “I didn’t know what to expect, so the first three, four minutes I was testing it and the first half it felt OK. The second half I think I got fatigued a little bit.”
Which is understandable considering the heavy-loaded defense Miami keeps honed on him. Meanwhile, Wade, James and Chris Bosh put together their first Big Three performance of the series, with each going for 20-plus points and defensively blitzing San Antonio with 10 steals and five blocked shots among them. Parker had three of the Spurs’ 19 turnovers for 23 Heat points.
“Miami did a great job on him,” Popovich said. “They doubled. They got it out of his hands and other people had to play. But they did a good job defensively on him.”
What should now be concerning for San Antonio is the durability of Parker’s hamstring come Sunday’s crucial Game 5. He is scoreless in the second half of each of the last two games, when he initially felt discomfort in the hamstring in Game 3 (although he was not needed much as his teammates rained 3s in a blowout) and as petered out in Game 4.
“It was just fatigue. I just missed shots,” Parker said. “I had great shots. I missed two tear drops and the lay-up. I was right there. I couldn’t get my lift. Hopefully, I’ll get more healthy and I’ll be better by Sunday.”
The Spurs’ championship hopes depend on it. They’re getting nothing out of the slumping Manu Ginobili, who had just five points on 1-for-5 shooting for his third consecutive game scoring in single digits, and they can’t expect to bomb away for 16 3-pointers as they did in Game 3 behind Gary Neal and Danny Green.
Those two stayed hot in Game 4, hitting six of the Spurs’ eight 3s on 16 attempts, but that’s a far cry from the NBA Finals record set two nights earlier that blew the game open in the second half.
Ginobili missed all three of his 3-point attempts and is now 10-for-29 from the floor in the last three games and 1-for-11 from beyond the arc. He was credited with just one turnover, but he’s been sloppy with the basketball throughout the series and even the most die-hard Spurs fans seem to be losing patience with their favorite 35-year-old Argentinian.
“We definitely need Manu,” Parker said. “We need to help him to try to get his confidence going. But I have a lot of confidence in Manu. I’m sure he’s going to break out of that slump.”
The bigger question is how much confidence — and better yet, endurance — will Parker have in his hamstring come Sunday. On a night where Miami’s Big Three emerged with an epic performance, the Spurs’ Big Three was reduced to one sputtering shooting guard and a point guard dragging a bad wheel.
“Those two days [off] I’m going to make sure I do a lot of treatment and get to 100 percent,” Parker said. “Tonight I was not 100 percent. By Sunday, that’s my goal, to be good to go.”
To wind him up and keep going and going and going.