Popovich puts on a show


Gregg Popovich sent home four of his five best players, the fifth (Kawhi Leonard) already out with injury. David Stern overreacted, promising substantial sanctions against the San Antonio Spurs for robbing TNT of three of its shows main characters.

Twitter erupted, fans revolted, and Stern’s comments escalated the situation in both anger and humor.

What would have eventually been an anonymous late November game, forgotten within a week’s time, became a spectactle beyond what happened on the basketball court last night. And on the court the Spurs JV squad still managed to put on one of the most compelling games of this young season against the NBA champion Miami Heat.

Somewhere out there Popovich would be smirking about the whole spectacle, if he were prone to such guilty pleasures. Was America not entertained?

David Stern was wrong, and his errors go far beyond grasping for a punishment he has no basis or means of enforcing.

For all the talk of the Spurs missing stars, possibly its biggest draw was still in attendance for TNT’s game, if still on the sidelines. After all, Popovich alone is often worth the price of admission.

The in-game interviews have become a show in and of themselves, for those with enough humor and sense not to make these games out to be more than they are.

The basketball, well, Popovich didn’t disappoint either.

The Miami Heat perhaps played down to their opponent to some extent. But Popovich-led players have a history of punching above their weight. Or, in the circumstances that Diaw has found himself lately, keeping up with those below his (though notably, LeBron James outweighs Diaw–muscle being heavier and all–but the spirit of the comment remains).

Each of the Spurs role players are generally more talented than they get credit for, pushed aside for visual and statistical quirks (think Moneyball). And Popovich manages to piecemeal these quirky skill sets in a manner that puts each in their best position to succeed.

Among the most humorous comments last night, one that rang with surprising truth is these reserves (hilariously and appropriately dubbed “The Alamos”) probably deserve their own spot midway through most power rankings.

They spaced the floor, moved the ball, and stood toe-to-toe with LeBron James with the novelty and fun of a March Madness Cinderella in an early round game.

Disrespecting the game? Cheating the fans? Should such allegations be thrown out for every Washington Wizards game that somehow makes it on national television? Does Stern apologize for the disgraces Clippers owner Donald Sterling has brought on the NBA? And there are plenty of fans in Seattle still awaiting an apology as sincere and outraged as the one Stern issued last night.

Popovich rested his best players and those remaining still competed at a level above what many NBA teams might muster on the fourth game in five nights with such and obviously available excuse.

Stern is accountable to his owners and advertisers, Popovich to his team and its ability to compete throughout an entire NBA season. For those questioning his tactics, Duncan and Ginobili continuing to play at All-Star levels in their mid-30’s is proof enough that something is working. For those questioning the timing, so early in the season, points scored in the first quarter are just as valuable as those scored in the fourth.

Cheating the game? Popovich is capable of anything but.


    ¡Vamos los Alamos!

  • andy

    ironic that everyone wants to jump on board and call the big 3 superstars and pay attention to them after they were sat.

  • Andrew G

    David Stern did exactly what none of wanted: give us the attention we so rightfully deserve. All eyes are on San Antonio now, and unfortunately may be for quite a while thanks to Stern’s comments.

    That aside, God, how great would it have been to win last night, amid all this?

  • Francesco

    I would like D. Stern to issue an apology for subjecting us to an 82 games schedule.
    The following is what any basketball lover, caring for “best possible product”, should demand:

    – move up training camp to the beginning of September, keep the Finals as it is
    – 45 days of training camp, so when the season begins teams know what they should be doing
    – a 58 games schedule (play every other team twice), so there are non back-to-backs, plus teams can train an rest during the season and improve
    – start the playoffs in mid March, with at least 2 days of rest between games, so we get the best possible show when things really matter

    Both the league and the singles teams would make the same amount of money, because if you play less then every game is worth more, this is basic stuff even kids know by now.

  • The Franchise

    Francesco, I like what you’re thinking. Fewer games in the season without back-to-backs would be a big improvement–at least cut ten games and play twice against the other conference and three times against the same conference.

    However, the playoffs take long enough as it is. I’d prefer to see one day between games as the rule.

  • Len

    lol, so true.

  • Len

    Sadly, the only way that would be signed off on would be is if all tickets, parking, concessions and apparel would be increased proportionally. Or for the owners or players to take a pay cut.

    Good luck getting anybody to agree to that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/reyregidormd Rey Regidor

    I think it shows the hypocrisy of this “I love this game” thing. Didn’t what we see basketball? Didn’t we see a game that was both frustrating (for the Heat fans as their own “superstar” team struggled against a ragtag group of bench warmers) and entertaining (for Spurs fans who saw how good the bench is)? This is about seeing basketball. If they want to see celebrities, they should go to Hollywood instead.

    Personally, I was quite frustrated too when I found out that none of the Big Three would be playing, but I watched it anyway, to check out de Colo if he’s any good (he is), if Splitter is developing (he is), and if Blair should actually be traded (he shouldn’t be). I loved to see quality basketball and unlike watching other “superstar” teams like the Nets and the Bobcats, this game is not as bad as Stern is overreacting about. I think Matt Bonner said it well, “It would have been great had we won.” And if they won, what? Should the Heat be sanctioned too because they didn’t put up a “quality game” (read: a 40-point lead) over a team filled with bench warmers? Should Stern issue another memo stating that the Heat failed to meet the fans’ expectations and the game was contrary to the “spirit” of the game?

    It’s just too biased and – pardon the term – idiotic to throw tantrums against something that actually makes sense. The Spurs needed to rest after playing on the road for a long time and before facing a formidable foe in the weekend, and there’s no rule against that. Maybe Stern oughta make a law that forbids that, and just remove the hypocritical clause about “the spirit of the game.” Just be direct to the point: “Coaches should play their superstars every game so that the NBA would profit.”