The Popovich System
Having swept the Los Angeles Clippers, the San Antonio Spurs return home awaiting the outcome of another Los Angeles series. A quick guess: the Oklahoma City Thunder will find The Popovich System far more troubling next series than they will The Kobe System in this one.
Few can really make sense of what The Kobe System actually is, other than Bryant offering a “you’re welcome” to a throng of successful celebrities wearing faces more confounded than Andrew Bynum’s after Bryant launches a 22-foot jumper despite the seven-footer establishing prime real estate in the post .
After Game 4 there was no Kanye West or Tony Robbins awaiting San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, only a roomful of seasoned beat reporters looking for a quote. And even then, Popovich is never in the most giving mood.
So far as systems go, The Pop System has a long ways to go to match the sheer entertainment value of The Kobe System.
Popovich has never been one to accept credit for success, and that which can be directly attributed to him–bringing a player of Manu Ginobili’s stature off the bench, resting players, intentionally fouling Reggie Evans–he can can be downright apologetic for.
“It’s not pretty. Basically it’s ugly, but it’s part of the game,” Popovich said. “My job is to try to win.”
It is a job Popovich has done very well, currently 18 times in a row in fact, with win no. 18 the toughest in these playoffs to date. This postseason has been rough for those swooning for hero ball antics, but last night Popovich once again showed why he might be the most clutch performer in the NBA.
Despite featuring one of the most feared closers in the game in Chris Paul, the Clippers struggled to generate clean shots down the stretch with their generic pick and roll and 1-4 isolation sets. Finally having to grind out baskets in the fourth quarter, Popovich and the Spurs cued up several backdoor cuts that generated easy layups.
It was an execution by execution, if that makes sense.
“Look how many back doors [the Spurs] got,” Paul said (via Kevin Arnovitz at ESPN). “When it was a close game, they come down and run this little play where they hit Timmy [Duncan] and then just drop it to Tony [Parker] for a layup. It’s tough. They know how to play. They come out after timeouts and they execute.”
In a hypothetical upcoming series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in which the Thunder are pegged to have the superior top heavy talent, this is the advantage the Spurs will press for a few victories. After all, most teams just come out of timeouts and clear out for their best player to create something from nothing.
Kevin Durant will have a little easier time doing this than Chris Paul, if only because he is healthy and Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard won’t enjoy such superior reach over Durant. But Popovich will be sure to adjust to this as well.
In Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, the Thunder have what many would claim to be a superior Big Three in this stage of their careers. But where that trio is vaguely held together by the versatility of Harden, the Spurs parts are completely interchangeable and integrated by the 2011-12 NBA Coach of the Year.
It’s a system that, in the words of Bryant, has enjoyed “success at success at success.”
And if there’s a weakness to be exploited, whether it be a Durant struggle to move off the ball in clutch situations, Westbrook’s at times over-exuberance, or Ibaka’s penchant for biting on fakes, it’s one that will be exploited. Regardless of the outcome, it will be a series that can only leave Oklahoma City (or the Lakers, should they pull off the improbable) better. Because that’s the type of coach Gregg Popovich is, as he explained in the case of Reggie Evans.
“I said I’m sorry I had to do that to you. I hate it, it’s ugly,” Popovich said when asked what he and Evans discussed after the game. “He was fine, he said ‘that’ll give me something to work on,’, it was great.”