San Antonio Spurs 95, Charlotte Bobcats 91: Gregg Popovich Alvin Gentrys Larry Brown

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For the Spurs, it was their second ugly win in as many games. The box score would tell you it was a classic Gregg Popovich vs Larry Brown duel: the Bobcats were leading the Spurs 48-44 at half and the pace of the game was closer to calcifying than blistering.

The key play of the game came late: Manu Ginobili put the Spurs ahead 95-91 on a clutch driving layup. Game over.

Ginobili’s game winner was crafty. It was clutch. It was a clever hesitation dribble that bloomed into an off-the-glass fall away. But it wasn’t surprising. Hardly anything in this game was surprising, with the exception of one promising early season trend.

Most of what Gregg Popovich knows, he learned from Larry Brown. He would tell that to you straight. But Gregg Popovich won this game by taking a note from another former Larry Brown pupil, Alvin Gentry.

If you’d ask Gregg Popovich why the Spurs were swept by the Phoenix Suns in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals, he’d tell you the Spurs’ bench was beaten, and beaten badly, by the high-scoring, highly-efficient Suns bench. The Spurs’ bench couldn’t make a shot against the Suns, and Phoenix, for their part, seemed to rarely miss.

Alvin Gentry had put the pieces into play long before the playoffs. Earlier in the season, Gentry went with a rotation that saw the Suns’ “second line” begin 4th quarters. Gentry routinely rode the Goran Dragic-led Suns bench until the 6-minute mark of the 4th, gradually returning Steve Nash and other Suns starters to the floor. That carefully-groomed second line hammered the Spurs four straight games.

Fast forward to this season. Gregg Popovich is quietly constructing the Spurs’ second unit into a fierce machine. The Spurs’ bench is at least six players deep: George Hill, Antonio McDyess, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, James Anderson, and Matt Bonner. Gregg Popovich is using those cards to play Gentry’s hand.

With 3:57 left in tonight’s 3rd quarter, Gregg Popovich took a full timeout. The score was 64-62, San Antonio. Over the next 3:52, Pop subbed the Spurs starters out in favor of Antonio McDyess, James Anderson, George Hill, Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal. The quarter ended 71-69.

Gregg Popovich stayed with this second line for the first two and half minutes of the 4th quarter, finally subbing Manu Ginobili for James Anderson at 9:38.  76-73 Spurs. A minute later Richard Jefferson entered the game for Tiago Splitter. 80-77.

Popovich maintained the lineup of Gary Neal, George Hill, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess for the next four minutes of game time. The lead grew to 88-82, and Pop finally returned Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to the floor. All the Spurs’ starters, save DeJuan Blair, were called on to ice the game.

But for a span of almost ten minutes, Gregg Popovich relied on his bench to carry the majority of the floor minutes. And those bench players — primarily Gary Neal, who finished with 15 points on 5-7 from deep, and Antonio McDyess — took a small two-point lead and turned it into six.

The Spurs’ bench didn’t run away with the game, which makes Popovich’s gesture of confidence so remarkable. He stuck with his bench even though the score was tight. And that second line didn’t play flawlessly –  they missed shots, bumbled possessions, and clumsily ran through their offensive sets. They played decently enough, but it was far from great basketball.

It’s difficult to say whether San Antonio’s bench can mature into the  juggernaut of reserves that was last year’s Phoenix Suns. But it’s clear Gregg Popovich is going to give the bench time to grow. He’s going to lean on them in tough situations. Popovich has invested in the task of confidence-building. It’s a long term play that might become the story of the Spurs’ season.

  • lvmainman

    Can the Thunder be tricked into trading Ibaka for Blair? after his 20-20 against them?

    How about trading Bonner for Spencer Hawes? 1 yr contract vs. 4 yr deal, same game but 3″ taller, 76ers need outside shooting

    The Spurs should sign Erick Dampier.

    He could play the Kevin Willis/Will Perdue role of ride the pine the entire season and play when it comes playoff time when McDyess/Splitter/Duncan get in foul trouble only.

    We need a big man for the Shaq/Perkins, Bynum/Gasol, Nene/Martin, Howard/Gortat, Chandler/Haywood matchups that will occur in the playoffs.

  • spursfanbayarea

    @lenneez
    The reason dampier did not start was because brendon haywood is a better player than dampier. No one is arguing that fact. Also duncan did abuse dampier, but duncan is an alltime great. We don’t need dampier to be a shut down big. We just need his size,hustle, and 6 fouls for about 15 minutes a game against the bigger teams.
    Also he is the only somewhat decent big out there. Thats why he is worth picking up. No need to trade or lose any assests to pick him up.

  • Bankshot21

    Jim Henderson
    November 10th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    “Very good example. Another one gets it. Nice job, Mac!”

    Get’s what? Your opinion? This is all we have is opinions. Do you not realize that dude? Is it that difficult that you’re merely stating opinions on things? That’s the sad thing about this. You’re not an authority on how people should view this situation.

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

    Let me say this, and then I’m done. I’ll let everyone else have the last word.

    Luc Richard Mbah a Moute may be as good at defending the basketball as, say, Monte Ellis is at scoring it.

  • Hobson13

    Jim Henderson
    November 10th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    “But you can’t possibly even offer a reasonable guess about Blair’s ultimate shooting range at this at this point.”

    To a large extent, you’re probably right. I will say that Blair has never been asked (unless on his highschool team) to shoulder the offensive load. I think he can develop a decent shot, but those comparing him to Charles Barkley are mistaken. I’m fairly certain that he will not have NBA 3pt range. That said, he will improve over the next several years. If he were consistent from only 18ft out, that would be a powerful weapon for Blair to possess.

    “That’s fine, and I appreciate your enthusiasm. But we need to tamp down our near-term expectations.”

    My statement was a bit out there, however, there was some logic behind it. Kaman will not play tonight. Not having to worry about the presence of yet another 7-footer should help the team, especially Blair. Also, he’s due for at least somewhat of a breakout game. Furthermore, this game should allow Pop to play the young guys for a extended minutes tonight assuming we take care of business. I could see Blair getting 15/10 in a game like this if he just relaxes and lets things come to him. I could be dead wrong, but we’ll see.

  • Jim Henderson

    Hobson13
    November 10th, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I didn’t know that Kaman isn’t playing, but still they’ll have Griffin & Jordan guarding our bigs, neither are an easy match-up for Blair at this stage. But my larger point is I just hope that all of us Spurs fans will be more appreciative of the good things that Blair gives us, and the better things to come over time. Our title chances should not be put on Blair’s shoulders so much right now. Otherwise, why don’t we talk about packaging Anderson because he doesn’t defend well-enough so that we think we need Moute. Why don’t we trade Hill because we don’t think he creates well-enough when spelling Parker. Why don’t we trade Splitter because he doesn’t offer the shot-blocking and athleticism that we need in a young big right now. The fact is Blair is not going to attract enough in return to trade him at this early juncture in his career, just as with Anderson, Hill, and Splitter. If we’re so damn impatient about winning a title this year with who we’ve got, then we have to field offers for Parker, which is a risky proposition because we might not be able to get enough back. At this point we’re probably stuck with who we have, and again, if we wanted to improve our chances with essentially staying with the status quo, we blew it by letting Amundson go.

  • Jim Henderson

    Bankshot21
    November 10th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    “Get’s what? Your opinion? This is all we have is opinions.”

    Surely you remember what I said previously about “opinions”. I won’t bother to repeat it here.

  • td4life

    Guys–

    Seems like there is plenty of agreement that Amundson would have been a nice addition to the bottom of our frontcourt rotation. I always considered such a move to be nice plan B, but preferred to see us make a bigger play to bolster the top of our frontcourt rotation. At this point, I don’t see that caliber of guy being out there anymore… as they all seem to have found good fits elsewhere. I agree that we “blew it” with Amundson. I also recognize that they Noahs and Hibberts of the league aren’t available, and the Taj Gibsons, J McGee, and Ibakas probably aren’t either… but would ya’ll care to comment on whether we blew it in not going after Tyson Chandler? Or even Tyrus Thomas (who could have been had with less sacrifice)? Nobody on this site agreed with me last year and last summer regarding those two guys, but now they seem to be showing their worth (to varying degrees).

    With another game on the tape, I can say I sure do like watching Tiago Splitter play basketball, he even hit his FTs against the Clippers! (How hard is it to put some arc on the ball? The hoop is so much bigger when the ball is coming from above, instead of from the front, damnit!!) Tiago + Timmy + Tyson or Tyrus would have been pretty friggin legit, I still say. But, it seems we blew it there too.

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  • rob

    Timothy Varner

    “Let me say this, and then I’m done. I’ll let everyone else have the last word.

    Luc Richard Mbah a Moute may be as good at defending the basketball as, say, Monte Ellis is at scoring it.”

    If any of you may recollect, and in the archives of this site…I proposed the Spurs going after Mbah a Moute.

  • Bankshot21

    Jim Henderson
    November 10th, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Bankshot21
    November 10th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    “Get’s what? Your opinion? This is all we have is opinions.”

    Surely you remember what I said previously about “opinions”. I won’t bother to repeat it here.

    Jim,

    I have not a clue what you said regarding opinions. I’ve learned not to store meaningless info in my memory bank. I do however have a funny for you, and it goes as follows: Blair had 5 fouls last night. 4 on the offensive end. That equates to 4 turnovers. You man crush on him has hexed his game. Man crush on Pau.

  • Tyler

    Jim -

    “I just happen to know how to evaluate talent, and understand the importance of player development, especially with those types of player’s that possess all the key intangibles necessary to see dramatic improvements in their game in due time.”

    With all due respect, that statement makes you come across as somewhat arrogant. I’m not naive enough to believe that every opinion I have is the right or correct one, but at least I’m usually open to being persuaded. However, it seems you treat your opinion as undeniable fact, while labeling those that don’t agree with you as misguided or simply wrong.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • Jim Henderson

    Bankshot21
    November 11th, 2010 at 7:19 am

    “I have not a clue what you said regarding opinions.”

    That’s because you often don’t read or listen with an open mind. You immediately search for rationalizations instead. What I said about opinions was at the tail end of the previous thread when we were taking about Blair. But don’t bother looking, I wouldn’t want to clog your memory with “meaningless info”.

    “I’ve learned not to store meaningless info in my memory bank.”

    No, it’s called “selective memory”.

    “I do however have a funny for you, and it goes as follows: Blair had 5 fouls last night. 4 on the offensive end. That equates to 4 turnovers.”

    That’s not funny, it’s meaningless, and simple-minded.

    Tyler
    November 11th, 2010 at 8:18 am

    “With all due respect, that statement makes you come across as somewhat arrogant.”

    What’s arrogant is you implying that I was “falling in love with my draft picks”. I’m an analyst, not a cult member.