You know the story by now.
Gregg Popovich, already without the injured emerging 2nd year star Kawhi Leonard, sat Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Danny Green last night against the Heat. Can you blame him? Well yes, some can and we’ll address them shortly.
The Spurs excursion was a rugged one. Six games (Bos, Ind, Tor, Wash, Orl, Mia) in eight days, and last night was their fourth in five days. That’s a stretch that looks like last season’s compressed schedule, not this year’s 82 games in 5 plus months.
Tactically it was a sharp move by Popovich, though I’d expect nothing less from him. He lack’s Phil’s fist of titles, but Pop is his coaching equal.
In the broadest of spectrum, Spurs veterans have absolutely nothing to prove. They’re in no need of sending a message to the Heat, by going into their building and knocking them off. They need to travel the path of least resistence to secure as much home court as they can for the playoffs as they can. It’s going to be grueling season long task to keep the Lakers, Clippers, Memphis and OKC behind them.
See now? Have your key producers beat up on a vastly inferior opponent in Orlando – where only Green played more than 30 minutes anyway – get them out early, then sit them for the far more difficult game in Miami – the second night of back to backs, and the last game of the odyssey.
If there was something to be achieved by sitting the starters, Pop shrewdly experimented by seeing which of his reserves would rise to the occasion of challenging the league’s best player, and the rest of his defending champion teammates. Five of the nine understudies reach double figure points, and only one scored less than six. The genius of Gregg Popovich.
Bench-Gate, if you will, drew the ire of the Commissioner. “I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said in a statement that was released after the Spurs-Heat game had tipped off. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.” Um, right.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think Stern was really that teed off. Pop has league clout, and Stern, the marketing whiz he is, knows he’s fairly powerless in this instance. I think, especially in issuing the statement with such speed, Stern was simply making a preemptive ‘you naughty Spurs know better than doing this on a TNT game!’ Show off a little anger and frustration, threaten punishment (or perhaps act on it in a rather meager way) and it enables him to deflect the approaching wrath of those wronged by Popovich’s stratagem.
Allow me to don my best Hamlet. (Note – I played Horatio in an MG 5th grade play) “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
Those poor, poor Miami fans, already plundered by the vile Jeffrey Loria, who had to suffer through watching their future Hall of Famers – awful, just awful. I bleed for them! Demand swift refunds for having to endure another near triple double from Lebron! TNT was probably a bit peeved, but only because their sponsors and advertisers who bought into the program were probably expecting the matchup to be one cadre of All Stars against another.
It’s tough to convince me that TNT was even miffed though. They were fortunate enough (or was this another one of Stern’s masterful ploys!?!?!) to have Barkley on the broadcast with Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan. Pay no attention to the man who benched his starters, just follow the colorful color analyst who just happened to be on the broadcast. Hmmmmmmm.
Barkley ALWAYS makes for great entertainment. In fact, his back and forth bickering with Miller was semi-First Take-ish. I wonder if there’s a future in that type of color analysis?
You know how this gets settled, peacefully? A light brushing of the wrist publically for Popovich. And then a private c’mom-Pop-pick-your-spots better-so-I-don’t-have-to-deal-with-this-s%it from Stern or Spurs management after they get their tirade from corporate partners. In the future Pop is more thoughtful to the feelings of the fans, and he sits his guys more strategically. If there’s even a way to do that.