It wouldn't be categorized as an all-out limp, but Tony Parker was noticeably favoring his left ankle as he gingerly walked through the locker room to speak with reporters after the Spurs victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of their first round playoff matchup on Wednesday night.
He was tired but happy. He'd spent the previous night in the hospital awaiting the birth of his first child and getting treatment for his sprained ankle suffered on Monday night during the Spurs victory in Game 4. The hospital stay was an all around success as Tony's fiance delivered a healthy baby boy and the treatment on his ankle did just enough for Tony to deliver a gutsy, 2013-ish performance which included ten points in the first quarter, a jaw dropping spin move on Monta Ellis, and a clutch, contested three to put the Spurs up by seven late in the game to stop a Mavs run.
"It was crazy. I basically didn't sleep, I just played on adrenaline," Parker said. "I'll sleep good tonight."
When asked about the spin move and his ankle, Parker smiled coyly and said he thought to himself after the play "I think I'm gonna be fine for the game."
A few minutes later outside the locker room Dirk Nowitzki took his turn at the podium. On his way up he stumbled on the last step, almost fell, and mumbled an "aw sh**t" in his German accent before slouching in his seat and grabbing the microphone from its base to begin answering questions.
He admirably spoke for several minutes and it was obvious he was bothered by the miss he had late in the game that would've cut the Spurs lead to two just prior to Parker's big three pointer. In stark contrast to Parker's mood, Nowitzki was tired but certainly NOT happy. His body language conveyed the feelings of a grizzled veteran and future Hall of Famer who knew that the series might be slipping away.
Because as beautifully bad as the play was on Monday, Game 5 was a very clean, well executed performance by both teams. The Spurs should feel confident heading back to Dallas for Game 6 knowing that they likely took the Mavericks' last, best shot and prevailed. While the Spurs played almost flawless basketball, committing only five turnovers and shooting 47% from the field, the Mavericks matched them virtually step for step. A team that shoots 44% while committing only eight turnovers is usually in a good position to win an NBA game, but not on Wednesday. Add to that Dirk's best game of the series with 26 points, 15 rebounds and a vintage fourth quarter to complement a huge game from fellow grizzled vet Vince Carter plus another solid performance (and 40 minutes) from Monta Ellis, and it's easy to understand why Nowitzki's body language wasn't the best.
Nowitzki returned time and again to his late missed shot and the Mavs overall lack of energy on defense, at one point calling the five Spurs turnovers in 48 minutes "a joke" for a Dallas team that feasts on taking the ball away from their opponent. He spoke almost wistfully of the sequence late in the game when he missed the easy jumper and Parker made the dagger three. He stared absently, speaking to no one in particular as he described how Tiago Splitter really wanted to guard the corner three so he pump-faked and got him to leave his feet. He explained with grudging respect how difficult they made the shot for Parker, but he still came through, leaving Nowitski and the Mavs to ponder what could have been.
As he left the podium and exited the media room, someone wished Nowitzki and his team safe travels home. It was a sign of respect from an anonymous member of a storied organization to a highly regarded superstar that is giving his all in what may be one of his last stands.
But don't expect the Mavericks to go quietly into the night. Friday will be another dog fight and the Spurs will have to play as well as they did on Wednesday if they expect to win. The Mavericks have no quit in them and will have to be knocked out because although Nowitzki's body language spoke of the dread of defeat, his heart will not allow surrender.
And a rested but happy Tony Parker will be key again, even without drama or stress immediately preceding the game. When asked about Parker's performance despite lack of sleep and a bum ankle on Wednesday, Tim Duncan sighed, rolled his eyes and said "He's a drama queen. He's fine. He got plenty of sleep."
But as the laughter waned, he continued, "Coming into the game I told him, this is perfect for you. This is what he does. In situations like this where he doesn't get a lot of sleep, or it's a stressful situation, he always seems to play better. I somewhat expected it from him. He wanted to get that game really badly for his son and the situation, and it was good for us."
Tony Parker is a father, champion, Spur, and future Hall of Famer. And now add to that list of titles, drama queen.
It's a term that conjures images of divas demanding the spotlight and making outlandish demands. Handmade white M&M's in vases of crystal for the dressing room. Homes that are situated so as no structure can ever cast a shadow on any of its walls. Bedrooms filled with rugs made with live puppies to caress the diva's feet, because what could be more joyous than a room full of soft playful puppies to caress your feet?
But in this instance, Spurs fans will take Tony Parker as a drama queen without condition, and hope that he plays in all-out drama queen beast mode for the next eight weeks.