This is what the Spurs do — men go down with injuries, next man steps up. Kawhi Leonard (concussion), LaMarcus Aldridge (heart condition), Tony Parker (back) were all out, so Patty Mills stepped up with 21 points and an impressive performance (he should get some Sixth Man of the Year votes, but that’s another topic).
That was better than the second team of the Warriors, who rested Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, all that on top of Kevin Durant still being out injured. The team that was out there was a defensive disaster, especially rotating out and contesting at the arc.
The Spurs won 107-85 in a game that wasn’t interesting to start and became a blowout. TNT’s David Aldridge summed up how we all feel.
This is not a good look for the NBA — a marquee Saturday night, showcase game between two of the best teams in the NBA and the stars are all sitting. This instance was not on Gregg Popovich — his guys were injured — but in the past he has had no qualms about resting superstars on nationally televised games.
Blame for this — if you think blame needs to dished out — has to start with the NBA and its scheduling. In the quest to get the ratings-driver Warriors on more national games, the Warriors finished a gauntlet of eight games in eight cities in 13 days Saturday night. That included two cross-country flights. If the NBA wants playoff-quality games scheduled in prime time on Saturday night, then they need to think through the run-up to said games. Treat it like a playoff game, where the teams have at least a day and maybe three off in advance of it.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that the Warriors medical teams — which tracks players with wearables in practice monitoring their condition — told them guys needed rest. He was following their instructions, and it’s clear rest has been an issue. The Warriors are slumping, struggling without Durant, Curry and Thompson have been cold from three, but part of that is their legs look heavy. This team looked tired. Kerr did what he thought was best for his team.
The NBA loves analytics, and the numbers show rested players both play at a higher level and are less likely to be injured. Coaches that can afford to do so are going to rest guys to keep them fresh. This isn’t on the player (usually), these are directives that comes from the coach or higher up the food chain.
But at what point does this start to turn the fanbase off? At what point dues it hurt ticket sales in arena or ratings on television because fans never know who might be rested on a given day. In a star-driven league like the NBA, sitting a healthy Curry — or LeBron James or James Harden or whomever — disappoint a fan base. And it almost always is done on the road, not at home to the home fans (and sponsors).
The answers here are not simple. The NBA, the players union, representatives from the teams all need to sit in a room and discuss this.
Is the answer to fine coaches who do this for nationally televised games? David Stern did this before? Television money is driving the league economy right now, and you can be sure ABC didn’t love getting to run the Davis Bertans vs. Ian Clark show Saturday night in primetime. The problem here is Kerr would have just rested his players the night before in Detroit, hurting those fans but not the television audience. Also, this system is unfair to the Warriors, Cavaliers, and other teams on the biggest national stages with their games — those teams are nationally televised all the times, where the Bucks or Grizzlies or a host of other teams would barely be touched by this.
But it’s not good for the league that we are talking about who didn’t play, and not the game. And this has been the topic for days, all around the league and on sports talk radio. It’s something the league needs to address this summer.
And while I’d love to see a more holistic answer, maybe fines are the best call.