Although Tim Duncan, the walking embodiment of Father Time, had the Stat Line of the Night on Wednesday night in the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone more important to San Antonio than backup point guard Patty Mills.
Mills, who scored just one point in the first 29 minutes, tied a playoff career high with 18 points (in 19 minutes!), all of which came in the second half and overtime. He made four free throws in the final 11 seconds of the game and bolstered a flat-lining Spurs team in the fourth quarter.
The Aussie point guard also caused Chris Paul to throw a glorious temper tantrum and come as close as any player in NBA history to spontaneous combustion.
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 23, 2015
“It was a huge game,” Mills told reporters after the game. “Our mindset was it was like a Game 7, and that’s how we treated it.”
All of Tony Parker’s lower body seemingly is injured, which is problematic considering he’s the Spurs’ third-leading scorer and has been part and parcel of San Antonio’s success since the Mesozoic era. He openly said in March that he wasn’t the same since returning from a hamstring injury, and he suffered an apparent Achilles’ injury Wednesday night. In the first two games of the playoffs, Parker has scored just 11 points on 23 percent shooting; Gregg Popovich’s squad scores seven more points per 100 possessions (103.5 compared with 96.5) when he’s off the court. The team’s net rating — the difference in a team’s offensive and defensive rating — is 5.4 when he’s playing, lower when he isn’t.
After the game, Paul Walker of Project Spurs reported that Parker’s condition was still a mystery, raising questions about what the team’s point guard position will look like moving forward.
There’s good news for the Spurs: With Mills playing, San Antonio scores 29 more points per 100 possessions (119.4 compared with 90.4) than when he’s sitting. The team’s net rating spikes to 9 when he’s on the court. Despite Mills only appearing in 51 games during the regular season, he averaged nearly a career high in assists per game and shot a 47.3 effective field goal percentage.
If Parker’s injury keeps him out for an extended period of time or limits his minutes, as is expected, Mills will be his replacement. Although Mills’s best splits come from him playing 10 to 19 minutes — he has an offensive and defensive rating of 106, and a true shooting percentage of 53 — he’s certainly serviceable playing 20 to 29 minutes — playing to an average plus-minus rating of plus-16.3, with an offensive rating of 97 and a defensive rating of 102.
The oft-made sentiment in the Spurs-Clippers series has been the crux of the second units: San Antonio ranks first in bench offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency, while Los Angeles ranks No. 29 in both. In the first two games of the series, the Spurs’ bench is outscoring the Clippers’ bench, 64-39. If Parker can’t go for Popovich, third-string point guard Cory Joseph will be tasked with heavier minutes, and Joseph just wrapped up the best regular season of his career. Joseph doesn’t hold a candle to Parker in a number of metrics, but is arguably one of the best third-string point guards in the league.
Immediately after helping the Spurs win an NBA championship last season, Patty Mills was dealt dreadful news: The rotator-cuff injury that he battled throughout the postseason required surgery. He would be out for seven months, there would be no FIBA World Cup and his stock as an unrestricted free agent would plummet. San Antonio brought him back on a multi-year deal, however, and Mills showed Wednesday night that he was worth it. The Spurs will need him to continue his tremendous play if they hope to make the second round of the playoffs.