MIAMI — Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was the recipient of some rare criticism following his team’s collapse in the final moments of regulation in Game 6, and it surrounded his decision to bench Tim Duncan during some key defensive possessions.
The end result, twice with under 30 seconds to play, was the Heat getting offensive rebounds which led to three-point shots that prevented the Spurs from hanging onto a championship-clinching effort in the game’s closing seconds.
The thinking is that with Duncan on the floor, the Spurs would have had a much better opportunity to secure a defensive rebound that could have sealed the victory. But speaking after practice at the American Airlines Arena on Wednesday, Popovich said that there was much more that went into his decision than that.
“It’s not that simple,” Popovich said. “That’s not why they got the threes. We were up five when they got their first three, and so redding and switching makes sense just to take away the three. But on an offensive rebound, it’s one of the toughest things in the NBA, to pick up people. And we had one guy who didn’t pick up. LeBron shot an airball when we were up five. They got the rebound, they got it back to him and he knocked it down.
“And then on the last possession, we were switching at the three‑point line to take away the three, and Boris Diaw has a little more speed than Tim Duncan, so it makes sense to have him out there redding at the three‑point line. Unfortunately we had two guys that went to LeBron and didn’t switch with [Chris Bosh], and he went right to the hole. He’s the guy who got the rebound, so it has nothing to do with Duncan.”
Duncan, as he did after Game 6, said on Wednesday that this is how the Spurs have played in these situations all season long.
“Not new at all,” Duncan said of his late-game benching. “Something we’ve done all year. Obviously we were trying to protect the three‑point line. We had a lot of bodies in there to switch and get up on our shooters. [We had] two bad bounces off a rebound — we actually got the stops on the threes, and [then there were] bad bounces right back out for threes.
“It is what it is,” he added. “Obviously, I want to be in there every minute of the game. That’s just how we’re built. But we’ve done it all year long. We’ve been successful with it. And if it comes down to it again, Pop will make the call again.”
The Spurs have a veteran core of players that trusts Popovich implicitly, but the reality is that the decisions late in Game 6 may have had an unusually adverse effect on his team’s chances. Now, facing the prospect of winning a Game 7 on the road for an NBA title — which hasn’t been done in 35 years — Popovich isn’t too concerned with history, or the long odds that other teams have failed to overcome in the past.
“I don’t really care what it’s been like for anybody else, ever, at any time,” he said. “All I know is we have had a hell of a year, and we have an opportunity to win a championship tomorrow night. That’s all that matters.”