Gregg Popovich is the best coach in basketball right now. One of the best of all time. He has four rings and built a culture in San Antonio that has them in NBA Finals 14 years apart and with consistent 50+ win seasons in between.
But he is not perfect.
He made a couple decisions down the stretch of Game 6 that were head scratchers and now he will be coaching a Game 7 in part because of them.
One was sitting Tim Duncan on some plays late — Boris Diaw was in to provide size with mobility to switch pick-and-rolls on the perimeter. Duncan at his age plays back on those more and Popovich wants to press the shooters.
With the Spurs up 3 and: 19 seconds left Popovich made that trade and while Diaw chased LeBron to challenge a three nobody was in the paint to try and keep Chris Bosh off the offensive glass. Bosh grabbed the rebound, found Ray Allen who drained a three that sent the game to overtime.
It’s easy to say this in hindsight, but if you’re not going to foul there before the shot to give up two free throws but protect the lead — Popovich said after the game “we don’t” do that, and statistically it’s pretty much a toss up with letting them shoot — then you have to have some rebounders on the floor. Such as Duncan. Miami is smart and well coached — they will take their first shot with time on the clock to allow for a rebound and a second chance in case of a miss, which is what happened.
Duncan sat a couple late plays late, both times Bosh got key offensive rebounds. Manu Ginobili defended Popovich in his post-game press conference.
“It’s one of the many things I’ll be thinking (about),” Ginobili said postgame. “We got a great coaching staff, great coach. If he did those subs, I’m very sure he thought about it and had many great reasons to do it. He wanted size on the defensive end.”
The other question was with Ginobili himself — after a brilliant Game 5 Ginobili was a mess again in Game 6 — he had 8 turnovers (almost as many turnovers as points, 9) and was a -21. He was struggling. But Popovich stuck with him for nearly 35 minutes. Earlier in the series when Ginobili struggled Popovich limited his minutes, but not Tuesday night.
With 8.8 seconds left in overtime Ginobili was in and the Spurs were down 1 point — score and they can win the title. Miami missed, Kawhi Leonard grabbed the rebound and Ginobili pushed the ball up — Popovich didn’t call timeout to get Parker in there for one last offensive play, he let Ginobili try to go coast to coast. What you got were a couple no-calls — Ginobili traveled but then was fouled by Ray Allen, both the kinds of plays where refs swallow their whistles late. Parker, the Spurs offensive catalyst, watched from the bench as the Spurs missed a great shot at a ring.
Popovich is still the best coach in basketball. Without question. And it’s not his fault Tim Duncan went 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter and overtime or that Danny Green went cold or a host of other things. This loss certainly isn’t all on him.
But Tuesday night was not his best night.