Who to trust in the clutch? Popovich as the answer to the Heat-les
A little more than a week ago, with the Miami Heat coming off an embarrassing loss to the same San Antonio Spurs they will face at home tonight, the Heat faced a last second situation against the Chicago Bulls with predictable results.
Gathered around a television set in the media room in the AT&T Center, beat reporters and internet columnists jokingly began a pool during the Miami Heatâ€™s final timeoutâ€”how many seconds would LeBron James dribble away from the top of the key before launching an ill-advised shot. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News won, the Heat lost.
The Heat have been able to turn thing around in the week since, but tonight still presents a measuring stick of sorts. Because as Tim Varner pointed out earlier, if the Spurs excel at one thing the Heat desperately wish for, itâ€™s in execution.
For all the debate about clutch, execution, and who to trust in the final two minutes, the answer really isnâ€™t about a player (no matter how many hours he shoots after losses). For all the talent the Heat boast, what they lack is what can separate the Spurs from the rest of the NBA: a closer. Because with the game on the line is there really anyone in the NBA you can trust more than Gregg Popovich?
If LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are some combination of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, then Popovich as George Gershwin, stands as their equal.
These San Antonio Spurs have talent to be sure, but in a seven-game series against one of the elite teams in the NBA, or in a game like tonight against the Heat, they will not be fielding the all-important best player on the floor. Unless you take into account their head coach.
Over the course of the season the Spurs have piled up an impressive number of wins in often less-than-spectacular fashion. If analysts have found trouble buying into this team itâ€™s because the measure of their success has been hard to quantify or define.
When defining keys to success, NBA analysts often like to point to key statistical markers. When Lamar Odom scores X number of points or Andrew Bynum blocks x number of shotsâ€¦when the Boston Celtics hold Team X under 100 pointsâ€¦
Just pick an arbitrary statistic, find a cutoff at which a team record trends greater than average when accomplished, and less than stellar when not.
But at 54-12 you can pull almost any statistical key out of the Spurs season you wish; itâ€™s still going to produce a great record. There is no specific indicator of success. Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker have each taken turns turning in terrible games; the team has found itself giving up over 100 points on good percentages, and the role players have been held quiet. And yet, the Spurs still win. A lot.
If there is one constant, itâ€™s in their defeats. If you want to win against the Spurs the best course of action is to beat the hell out of them early enough to the point that Popovich loses interest.Â Otherwise, as the Rockets and Kings can attest to: if the Spurs get into a fourth quarter they are going to out execute you.
NBA Playbook is a fantastic site, and Sebastian Pruiti does as good a job as anyone at the TrueHoop Network,Â but at times it can come off as Gregg Popovichâ€™s greatest hits. Now, the Spurs do not hit every shot or make every proper read (as was the case in Boston when Ginobili missed an open McDyess cutting to the rim), but the Spurs are going to get a look, a better look, than what another team isolating their star player would.
With the Spurs leaning less and less on Tim Duncan, Popovich has slowly stepped forward as the franchise. And the lastest Popovich model for success has little to do with a specific formula.
Much like DeJuan Blair or George Hill, who have no defined position or skill set, this team simply knows how to play.
In the past I’ve talked about elite players merely needing functional athleticism to get the job done. That is, they need to have enough athletic ability to gain an advantage slight enough that the rest of their brilliance can shine through.
In this roster, Popovich has functional athleticism. The roster is good enough, finally, to carry out his schemes. And though LeBron James might be far and away the most talented player on the floor tonight, should the game find itself tight in the closing minutes, who do you trust more: LeBron or Popovich?