Tuck: Spurs Loss Not Popovich’s Fault

A child’s favorite question is always just one word: WHY?

Sports are pretty simple.  You play a game, and there is a winner, and a loser.  It becomes more complicated when we ask the question, “why?” afterwards.

Greg Popovich is being questioned on his strategies and decisions.  Just because he is one of the greatest coaches of all-time, doesn’t make it out-of-bounds, so don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people asking, “Why?”  I just disagree with some of the conclusions that have been drawn.

Pop decided to take Tim Duncan out of a 5-point game, Spurs up, with 28 seconds left.  Miami put a lineup on the floor consisting of: James, Wade, Miller, Allen, and Chalmers.  So, before you can complain about the Spurs not getting a rebound, please tell me who you’d have Duncan cover?  (Duncan also said after the game, it was normal for him to come out of games late also season under similar circumstances.  That is in stark contrast to what Roy Hibbert said after the Pacers Game 1 loss to Miami.)

Next, with the Spurs up 3, and 19 seconds left, Duncan once again went to the bench.  Bosh was subbed in for Miller.  Diaw, once again in for Duncan.  On the play, beautifully run, LeBron James caught a pass off a back-screen for a wide-open 3.  Both Diaw and Parker attempted to challenge the shot.  Would Duncan have?  We’ll never know.  If he had switched, which Diaw was doing, and all the Spurs were, it would have been Parker’s responsibility anyway to take Bosh, and attempt to box him out.  He did not.  Nobody blocked out a rolling Bosh on the play, who went uncontested to the rim, and out-leaped several players for the rebound.

Should they have fouled at that point?  Pop doesn’t believe in fouling.  Many coaches don’t.  Advanced stats show very similar success/failure rates for both strategies (playing defense vs. fouling up 3).  So, really, it’s just a choice.  No really wrong or right, just an opinion and belief.

People also questioned Pop benching Parker twice on defense in overtime.  Well, Miami was eating up the Spurs on the 1-3 pick-n-roll because Parker was forced to switch on James.  By subbing him out, Ginobli, a bigger defender, took on that role.  It worked, Miami went scoreless both times.

Of course, the second time, Pop chose not to call a timeout, and let Ginobli attack in transition as opposed to setting up a play/bringing Parker (who admits after the game he was battling cramps as well) back in.  Again, some coaches like to just play in the flow in that situation believing you have the defense on their heels.  I thought Ginobli was fouled attacking the basket.  The refs did not.  If a foul is called and Manu makes two free throws for the lead, there isn’t a complaint.  But he turned it over, so it’s Pop’s decision that gets criticized.  That’s a fair critique, only in that you disagree with the strategy.  But its not as if the 6/23 shooting Tony Parker was a lock to win the game at that point.  After-all, he had just gotten his jump-shot blocked on the previous possession.

In summary, everyone is entitled to their opinions.  But so is Pop.  Strategically you can disagree, but he made some sound, informed decisions that I don’t believe he would have done any differently if he could do it again.  Players play.  Sometimes they miss shots, sometimes they make mistakes, and sometimes the other guy is just a little better.  Coaches just try to put them in the best position to succeed, which Pop did.  Miami deserves some credit for making shots and playing defense, don’t they?  And sometimes the ball just bounces funny.  That’s how sports work.  We get a winner and a loser.  That’s always true.  Asking why doesn’t always get you the right answer.