In Pop Duncan trusts


I’m going to start with a few facts and then go from there. Gregg Popovich sat Tim Duncan for the last 4:28 of the San Antonio Spurs’ 94-82 Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs had a two point lead when Duncan sat down and won the game by 12. During the regular season, Duncan was seventh in MVP voting and second team All-Defense.

I think we as a audience usually give coaches too much credit and blame in sports. Few are the geniuses we make them out to be, nor are they at fault for every losing team. For the most part the NBA is a player’s league; it’s hard to win if you don’t have the talent.

“Players make shots or make plays that determine the outcome of games at this point, really,” Coach Pop said before the Spurs’ Game 5 win over the Warriors.

All that being said, what Gregg Popovich did at the end of Game 6, when the result was anything but assured, was remarkable. And how Duncan reacted to the situation was just as amazing. Popovich sat Duncan, who looked like he was dragging in the second half, at a time when most coaches wouldn’t have the job security or the stones to do it.

I’ve been more nervous about how people would react to jokes I send out over Twitter.

“I just made that choice,” Pop said after the game with regards to if there was anything physically wrong with the Fundamental, indicating that the decision was based solely on how Duncan was playing.

And Duncan accepted it, trusting that Pop’s decision was what was best for the team. I can’t imagine Duncan was happy with it, he’s so competitive that I’m sure he wanted to be out there, and was likely angry he wasn’t. But not liking a decision is a totally different matter than not accepting it. Duncan accepted it, and the Spurs were better for it.

As clichéd as it is to say, the only player-coach relationship in sports I can think of that is strong enough outside San Antonio to pull of a similar situation is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in New England. Few players know their coaches well enough and trust their judgements to the degree that Duncan does with Pop. And as much as Pop deflects all the success he’s had over the years and credit it all to Duncan, even fewer coaches are able to make the decision he made on Thursday night

What Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan pulled off in Game 6 may be even more incredible than San Antonio’s Game 1 comeback.

The Spurs outscored the Warriors 17-7 over that Duncan-less stretch, holding Golden State to 2-of-10 shooting and outrebounding them 6-2.

The Spurs went small, employing Tiago Splitter at center and Kawhi Leonard as the smallball power forward, with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green as the guards. Parker (13 points on 3-of-16 shooting, eight assists), who couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn through three-and-a-half quarters, played off the ball down the stretch and let Ginobili handle the ball.

The result was that despite a poor shooting night himself (1-of-6 en route to five points), Ginobili made plays for his teammates, finding Parker for two corner 3s and Leonard for another. Leonard finished with 16 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, continuing to make plays on and off the ball for San Antonio.

Meanwhile, Splitter held down the fort inside in his best minutes of the series. It helped that Andrew Bogut was unavailable in the fourth quarter due to his ankle injury, but Splitter was solid inside. Tiago also did a good job running the pick-and-roll with Ginobili, something we’re not treated to often enough these days. The last two seasons had seen the pair develop an impressive chemistry, but Splitter’s move to the starting lineup this year had limited the minutes that partnership would have.

With Ginobili the primary ball handler down the stretch and Splitter the only big man in the game, the Spurs partied like it was 2011-12 on offense. The result was the hard rolls to the basket by Splitter that helped open up space on the perimeter for the San Antonio shooters.

And it was all possible thanks to one player’s ability to keep his ego in check, today and forever, and one coach’s confidence in his decision-making and his star player’s mental makeup. Gregg Popovich made a decision to bench his Hall of Fame player for the better of the team and that living legend accepted it. As a reward for their faith in each other, the Spurs are on their way to the Western Conference Finals again.

Play-by-play data courtesy of

  • lucas5spúrs

    What an article, it only reflects the greatness of Tim and Pop, and how this Spurs family is built. This is what makes every Spurs fan proud to be a Spurs.

  • junierizzle

    Down the stretch it was clear TD had a bit of the noodle legs going on plus his TO. It looked bleak and I asked aloud, “What’s Duncan doing?” But it never crossed my mind that Pop should sit him. Why would it? Pop definitely looked like a HOF coach on that one. But the cool thing about it, was that as big of a deal it was, at the same time it wasn’t a big deal. That’s how the Spurs roll.


    Baynes must play against grizzles we need the big body

  • Conflicted WarriSpurs Fan

    God, those two straight runs to the basket by Splitter crushed me as a Warriors fan, but made my heart leap as a Ginobili P&R fan.

  • The Big Equanimity

    Best explanation I’ve read yet. The other writers haven’t addressed WHY Pop made that decision, i.e. the Ginobili-Splitter pick and roll success. The Warriors had the Parker-Duncan version stiffled all night

  • Mamba Juice


  • neverthehero

    I agree. My own personal theory is that Duncan really wants to complain about situations like that, mostly because of his competitive nature. However, he looks around and see where complaining gets you, so he decides it’s not worth it. The best we could hope for is A Duncan memoir to let him explain what he really thinks.

  • kumiho

    Warriors was down, and they needed 3s to win. By going four smalls, it was better for defense. Also, with Splitter out there, people did not pay attention to him on offense. Warriors had a hard time to guess which Spurs players would have to shoot the ball. On paper, it was a pretty weak lineup, but it definitly caught Warriors off-guard in the late game.

  • Andrew G

    This is a great explanation on what happened. It parallels what happened between Tony and Green, followed by Tony and Pop. ESPN was showing the sequence where Tony was yelling at Green after a defensive breakdown, allowing an easy basket by Curry (or was it Curry assisting?). Tony goes off for almost a minute on Green, followed by Pop pulling Tony aside and grilling him. You could see Pop mouthing the words “shut up” to Tony repeatedly.

    This is why Pop is the best coach in the league. People praise Chris Paul on having high basketball IQ, and a team leader that everyone needs to listen to. The problem: coaches will let Paul do and say whatever the hell he wants (his ego and hero ball at the end of games are a clear sign of that). Pop will humiliate you, regardless of name or status, bring you down to Earth, and tell you what the solution is–not rely on the meddling of some overrated point guard to do the coaching for him.

  • Bear

    Looked to me like Tim made a dumb turnover, Pop pulled him to just give him a quick breath and get his stuff together. In the meantime, we went on a run so Pop stuck with it. In the NBA, if you’ve got guys building a lead, you leave them in there as long as you can. It’s like pressing bets in blackjack. You just have to have a good eye for when the run is ending. In this case it lasted the rest of the game.

  • dennislippy

    As much as I like Patty Mills, I would activate Baynes and sit Patty for the Grizzlies……..I would keep McGrady on the bench because of size only and Memphis would guard McGrady if he came in based on past reputation……..Size and strength will be needed to win this series.

  • Graham

    I promise you, that will not end well, outside of 2 minute stretches…..

  • Joe Rattlesnake

    Tim Duncan and Pop are example of what legends are made of!!!! Let this be a lesson to all NBA wanna be stars.

  • lvmainman

    Agreed. If Pop refuses to play Baynes 3-6 minutes a game in this series, he’ll be benching Duncan down the stretch in the 4th qtr of a future game.

  • Rd Martin

    Yeah, I think it was Timmy needed a 60 second blow and while resting the Spurs caught a little fire so Pop stayed with what was working with only 3 minutes left by then and a 7 point lead. Through the years, I have seen Duncan come out of a bad game (Dallas last year I think) and when reserves got it close Pop left the reserves in all while Duncan cheered them on. Probably a little more tough and gutsy to do in the playoffs but not without precedence.

  • idahospur

    I was thinking at the moment that Parker and Manu should sit since they were hitting nothing. Then they all got hot and thats the end of that chapter.
    Plan for Memphis, throw every big body at Gasol and Randolph and make them work for every shot. Lots of fouling likely needed.

  • idahospur

    And that shows what I know about coaching basketball.

  • Ryan McShane

    Pop should have pulled Tony in the fourth quarter of Game 2 – at least for a few minutes. And after Game 2, Pop gave Tony a lot of rest. Parker averaged 44 minutes in Game 1 and 2, and 36.5 minutes in games 3 through 6.

    Likewise, Duncan played fewer minutes in the last two games. He averaged 38 minutes in games 1 through 4 and 31 minutes in games 5 and 6.

    I think Pop is starting to learn that he needs to give rest to players DURING the playoffs and that a fresh Cory Joseph or Tiago Splitter is more effective than a tired Tony Parker or Tim Duncan. I imagine he would like to have a set of fresh All-Stars at the end of games against Memphis (and hopefully Miami/Indiana/New York) and thus expect a reduction in Tony and Tim’s minutes. And maybe Kawhi’s.

  • joseph a De La Garza


  • Titletown99030507d

    Diaw can start I’d rather have Tiago come off the bench with Manu any day.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Not unreasonable but add good perimeter/3 pt arc defense to that.


    First of all, great article.

    Pop had to sit Duncan. He was gassed and had no legs left. As far as leaving him out the rest of the game, small ball was working (as it had before in the series). Duncan, the consummate pro, probably regarded it with bittersweet emotion as welcomed that his teammates could handle it and seal the win. My concern, it was three games in a row Timmy ran out of gas by the 4th quarter. Hopefully that won’t be the case against the Griz. Pop made a brilliant decision.

    That said…With the proven success of a Ginobili/Splitter tandem, wonder why Parker doesn’t utilize Splitter as effective as Ginobili when on the court with Tiago. Can you imagine a drive and dish from Parker to Splitter with Duncan as a trailer on the play?

    Off topic…Leonard is coming into his own and the main reason that decision was successful.

    Prediction for Memphis series…As goes Leonard…so shall the Spurs.

    No Worries

  • NYC

    Yes, we all remember The Dallas Game. It was the pivotal moment of that season.

  • NYC

    Sure that sounds great in theory. But who’s gonna wave and snap that towel from the bench? That towel doesn’t wave itself, you know.

  • lvmainman

    About time. Anyone who’s a Spurs fan knew 3 years ago that Duncan is best at 30-32 minutes a game, and Ginobili at 24-28 minutes a game.
    Pop’s benching of Green last year to start game 5 vs the Thunder, ensured that Ginobili would suffer in Game 6 and that’s exactly what happened.
    As long as Parker or Ginobili are on the floor at all times to orchestrate the offense the Spurs should be fine. But, if Pop uses Baynes vs the Grizzlies like he did Splitter when the Spurs got bounced in the 1st round, the Spurs might be in trouble.

  • TheFG21

    I read the SPURS were interested in Ohio State prospect Deshaun Thomas. I saw couple of vids of him in YouTube and he looks like a good catch for a late pick. 6’7″ 221lbs. He doesnt look as athletic as K.Leonard nor jump as high, but he can shoot and creates his own plays by the look of it.

  • Ryan McShane

    Not sure if Baynes is the right man for the job. I think Bonner could do well on Z-bo (and get some foul calls… maybe). But it could definitely be Baynes.


    Spurs have been doing this for years and if you do not but in to this system,then out you go.Ask Captain Jack what he thinks of that move by Pop and you will probably get a whole different take on things.#Spursfansince76#

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