Of Woody Allen, Radiohead, and Gregg Popovich

by

Annie Hall might be the greatest film ever made, and it’s not even Woody Allen’s best movie. Important artists work like that. Their best work is as good or better than anything else of its kind. But those who study their work closely always throw lines like, “Yes, Gatsby is good, but have you read Three Hours Between Planes?”  Mention Paranoid Android to Radiohead fans and count the seconds before they urge you to re-consider the genius of There, There.

My assessment of Gregg Popovich’s season is something like this.

Woody Allen’s peculiar burden is that he directed Annie Hall and Manhattan at the end of the 1970s. Everything he’s done since, whether forgettable or masterful, has been placed against the impossible standard of his past work. No matter how good he is, he’ll never be better than himself. Michael Jordan was a good basketball player late in his 30s, and it was painful to watch.

Gregg Popovich is, according to some metrics, the best defensive coach of all time. And, wow, how could he ever top that 2004 Spurs team? That team could have forced a tsunami to gently back away from a shoreline, all shame-faced as it disappeared into the sea.

But what Gregg Popovich has done this season is better. He’s Woody Allen gone Bergman; Dylan gone electric; Radiohead gone electronic. Gregg Popovich is the best offensive coach in basketball. This Spurs team is a legitimate scare to simply run the opposition out of the building. It’s all spacing and pick and roll and execution.

What’s most interesting about this—and unlike the examples of other artist transforming themselves into something different—is that Gregg Popovich didn’t want it this way. At the end of last season, he made a public commitment to do whatever he needed to make sure the Spurs returned to the top of the league’s defensive rankings. Defensive dominance is his medium. It’s in his blood. And all things being equal, that’s what Popovich would prefer to be—a great defensive team.

But midway through this season he candidly admitted those days were done. This Spurs team would never again be a great defensive team. And because of that, Popovich focused his efforts on doing something new. The Spurs would become the best offensive team in basketball.

Put differently, Popovich has said the Spurs like players who have “gotten over themselves”.  He will often ask his players to change their games or expectations for the better of the team. This season he asked this of himself. Gregg Popovich got over the defensive dominance thing, and it has added years to the Spurs’ championship window.

Earlier this season, Rick Carlisle said of Popovich, “I think he’s the greatest coach, really ever in this game…”

I’ll leave that discussion to men like Carlisle. But beyond the Xs and Os, Popovich’s simple willingness to do it differently has made this season the most remarkable coaching performance of his career.

 

 

  • SAJKinBigD

    Well said, Tim! A great perspective!
    Living in Dallas, I can attest that Carlisle really does believe what he says about Pop. You can tell in his voice the awe he holds for the Head Coach of our Silver and Black, and he brings it up about once or twice a month.
    I get all emotional when I think about this team and how EVERY SINGLE MEMBER (barring NEO, for whatever reason – must be his fiance’) buys into the culture from the training staff to the players to the Front Office!
    Go SPURS GO!

  • agutierrez

    Great article. Many of us here and at PtR used to criticize Pop’s stubborness and that military mentality that says, “I’m never wrong and you never challenge authority.” It’s in his DNA. It still shows itself now and then as in his long refusal to remove Blair from the starting lineup (in that sense, the beating the Lakers put on us April 11 might have been a blessing). But it is a credit to his intelligence and adaptability that he has come to realize that today’s rules don’t allow the kind of defensive dominance of the past and likely never will. So keep your defensive expectations high but real while constructing an offensive scheme that, when properly implemented and bought into by all your players, is virtually unstoppable. Imagine what he might be able to construct with a full off season and training camp. Maybe our theme song should be: Ain’t No Stopping Us Now? Thanks for your great work here guys.

  • Titletown99030507d

    He still hasnt gotten over his love affair with Blair. And when Blair plays 20 minutes in any game in these playoffs and then we loose then you will change your opinion of him. Im right about ready for him to get his last championship if we are destined then he can take his accolades and head to his wine celler and drink himself to oblivion and call it a wonderful career. Maybe he and Bob Hill can have drink together in celebration.

  • DorieStreet

    Tim,
    Your article could lead to the younger followers of the Silver & Black to research, and then become afficianodoes of the mid-to-late 20th century film and music masters you mentioned.

    The comments of SAJKinBigD, autierrez, and Titletown99030507d show the wide range of opinion among Spurs fans about Coach Popovich. He goes about his profession somewhat uncoventional, resulting in praise and ire.

    A title garnered with this season’s squad will put him in “single name” reference in NBA history among the sports coaches.

  • Stijl

    To some degree it’s all about form following function. What was Pop to do? Long gone were the Bowen’s, Ellie’s and Horry’s for this team. Not to mention age and weathering of the best defensive PF ever to play the game. So…with a little conventional wisdom and input from some of the best offensive minds to play (and coach) the game…I’m sure Pop was glad to inject this new “philosophy” (to Pop at least) to winning a championship.

    It’s worked out great so far this season and no reason to believe it will fail in the playoffs. But alas…what was that old adage?…Defense Wins Championships. And against some teams (Denver or Memphis) if the Spurs should have to face either this playoffs…they will have to play no less than very solid defense along with really good offense to win the series. Then if the finals were to be against either Miami or Chicago…Spurs would have to repeat that same scenario again.

    Great thing is…with this new found offensive execution along with defensive knowledge of the past…Spurs could probably play any series as either a good defensive team and/or offensive juggernaut.

    Go Spurs Go !!!

  • SAJKinBigD

    Another thing to remember about Pop is his roots. Pop worked with both Larry Brown and Don Nelson – offensive genius-savant w/loads of crazy in him.
    Just sayin’. :)

  • Bushka

    Boy you guys are writing up a storm now. It’s almost like you just fool about in the regular season but bring the A game at the end.

    Great article :) Go spurs Go

  • Vermont Spurs Fan

    Titletown –

    Not sure where the negativity is coming from. But one thing is clear – Pop has learned so many things about this team and he is going to put them into play. You can tell by the lineups he has used in the past two games. He will likely use some of the normal rotations, but here are the guys (I think) Pop is going to rely on in crunch time in order of reliance from most important down.

    These are the guys who will be in during the 4th quarter in tight games:

    1.Ginobili (Pop still trusts Ginobili in the last 20 seconds of a game more than any other player. He hits free throws, 3s, drives to the bucket, step back 2s and distributes the ball. He gets steals and big rebounds and loose balls. He plays great D without fouling. Best closer in the game? could be).

    2. Duncan (nothing to be said here – he is the big fundamental).

    3. Parker (Parker owns the fourth quarter…everything up to the last one minute – which is Ginobili, and Gary Neal and now Danny Green, time.

    4. Gary Neal (Clippers? Memphis? Neal is clutch!)

    5. Kawhi (Danny Green might be on the floor here but with Ginobili back it probably will be Kawhi’s length and rebounding).

    6. Boris Diaw (Defense – who knew? Big rebounds, assists. He is likely to be the Big on the floor with Tim – shoots the 3 well enough to replace Bonner in the final minutes.

    7. Danny Green (depending on the match up – Big shot Danny might bring on the floor. Lockdown D as well).

    8. Captain Jack (He has been there and he is big and aggressive and can play both O and D).

    9. Tiago (When Timmy is not on the floor Tiago will be…so this is unlikely, but could be the two 7 footers together in the clutch especially if we sub offense and defense at the end of a tight game).

    10. Bonner (Diaw likely takes his minutes or even Captain Jack, but Pop may still dial up the Red Rocket on occasion).

    Wow! That is 10 players that could possibly be on the floor at the end of the game although I do not expect to see Tiago or Bonner in the last 2 minutes…

    The Cleanup Crew: Here is the group we can expect to see in a blow out:

    Blair (he is the one who loses minutes the most on this team in the playoffs) Mills (He may play some real minutes, too) Anderson, Cory Joseph, Derrick Byers. These five are on the court if the game is out of reach.

    What do you think?

  • LPspursFan

    i also think there is enough ‘Defensive DNA’ left in Pop and the guys that, late in games, because they are fresh, they can exert the extra effort necessary for shut-down D in crunch time…we have 7 regular rotation players that average 20+ mpg (Tiago averages 19) not counting Jax and Diaw, so one benefit of our depth is being fresher in the 4th on both sides of the ball

    and isn’t one sign of a good coach the ability to match your available talent to the philosophy that gives your team the best chance at ultimate success? it’s also like an artist that has created great, beautiful, sought-after art in one genre or medium deciding to try and conquer a different realm…i think genius minds like Pop can tend to think like that

  • ThatBigGuy

    Pop’s always had offensive abilities, but it was just masked by the incredible defense and the fact that his greatest offensive weapon, Timmy on the block, wasn’t very conducive to triple digit scoring nights. Just watch any in bounds play from the last decade and see how open the shot is. That’s Pop being offensively minded.

    @ Vermont – I think Pop calls on Bonner fairly early in games just to see what he’s got. If he tosses up a couple bricks, he’s more than likely done for that game, and Diaw soaks up the minutes. If he hits a couple in a row, he’ll get minutes, especially if he’s hot, which will happen once or twice a series. That’s the beauty of having Diaw: if Bonner isn’t hitting, Pop has another player who can contribute with a totally different set of skills.

  • Miguel

    You mean I’m not the only Spurs fan to listen to Radiohead and watch Woody Allen films?? What?!

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Timothy Varner

    Miguel, No sir, you’re not.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @Vermont
    It doesn’t matter who’s on the court in the last minutes of the game if the perimeter defense melts down (our guards allowing the opposition to get off at the arc) and then they try to get in to a 3 point pissing match with the opposition we could end up on the wrong end of that. Then the front court issue will be a moot point. From what I’ve seen in rotations as of late in the early part of games it may not fair well against good playoff teams. We’re always having to depend on the 2nd unit to get us out of a hole and stretch the lead. All these playoff teams have good front courts to deal with. All I know if Tiago plays under 10 minutes in the playoffs then why have him on the team. Send him to the Celtics or some place where he’ll be utilized. I’ve said it here many times Tiago is worthless to this team if he plays less than 10 minutes. He needs to be on the court in 8 minute stretches X 3 even if it means playing along side with Timmy for some of those minutes. (LA, Memphis, Clips, ) That’s my take.
    And by the way never cared for Pop.

  • LPspursFan

    come on, Title, with all due respect…Tiago averaged 19 mpg, so that’s like ‘6.33 minute stretches X 3′ which isn’t much less than what you’re crying about; plus, taking into account the games where he didn’t play many minutes, his mpg average in the others was probably real close to your demands

    this team won 75 percent of its games with Pop doing it his way, so i’m not sure how much better the team coulda played to make you happy…btw, you’re certainly in the minority when it comes to your ‘caring for Pop’

    Go Spurs! Go!!

  • senorglory

    The first Babe (talking pig) movie, is the best movie ever made.

    There is no better way to tell that story, than the way it was told. No improvement that could be made to the method or style. It is tight and effective from start to finish. It was innovative. It’s influence is far and wide. It appeals to a broad, broad audience, which is no small feat.

    Seriously, number 1 in my book.

  • theghostofjh

    @Titletown99030507d
    April 27, 2012

    “He still hasnt gotten over his love affair with Blair.”

    Uh …. I’m afraid the love affair’s with Bonner. Are you blind?!

  • John M. Perkins

    Pop and Woody Allen, a bit of Dylan, yes I’m a fan.
    Radiohead, maybe in argument, but musically, not so much.
    Now if you want to talk about Miles Davis after “Birth of the Cool” then you’d be spot on.
    Maybe even better is Jefferson Airplane/Starship and the lyrics to “Stairway to Cleveland.”

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