Posted on: January 4, 2011 11:21 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2011 2:15 am
NEW YORK – After pulling his starters with three minutes left in a 10-point game Tuesday night, Gregg Popovich promised to be in rare form in the cramped hallway outside the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden.
Oh, I’ll just get out of the way. Pop, your thoughts?
“The New York Knicks kicked our ass,” Popovich said after the Knicks beat the team with the best record in the NBA 128-115.
Met by stunned silence – and I’m not sure why, this was Pop, after all – the Spurs’ curmudgeon in chief said, “Do I have to think of the questions, too?”
Oh, there were plenty of questions. Just not a whole lot of answers. Popovich had seen games like this for years when Mike D’Antoni was in Phoenix. He won more than his share and had nightmares about the rest. On this night, miles away from those Western Conference battlegrounds, the Spurs walked right into the Knicks’ up-tempo trap in what Popovich called a “pathetic” defensive effort.
“It was the worst defense of the year for us,” Pop said.
It was more than that. The 128 points were the most San Antonio has allowed in regulation in the Tim Duncan era.
“They made us play their game instead of us making them play our game,” Duncan said.
For the Spurs (29-5), who fell a game shy of tying the second-best 34-game start in NBA history behind the 1995-96 Bulls, it was merely a blip on the radar of a long season. Popovich dryly explained that pulling his starters with 3:13 left was a tactical move to save his veteran team for Wednesday night’s game in Boston.
“It’s a long season,” Popovich said. “The chances of winning the game were not good.”
But for the Knicks, it was far and away the most significant win in a season of revival led by the Spurs’ old foe from the West, Amar’e Stoudemire. It was’t just the Knicks’ franchise player who torched the Spurs Tuesday night, but also Wilson Chandler, who had 31 points on 13-for-19 shooting. Stoudemire had 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists. After falling short against the Celtics (twice), the Heat (twice) and the Magic, the Knicks (20-14) finally broke through against the elite. It’s the earliest New York has hit the 20-win mark since the 2000-01 season, when they achieved the milestone on Jan. 4.
“I just know that they’re a very good basketball team,” Popovich said. “They’re not a dangerous team; they’re a good team, and there’s a big difference. A lot of teams can be dangerous on a night. But they’re sound. They’re playing their roles, they’re playing together, they’re communicating, and the physicality was impressive. … I’m happy for Mike. He’s had to go through some tough stuff and they’ve obviously turned the corner. They’re obviously going in the right direction.”
D'Antoni's teams have gone in this direction before -- as in, up against the Spurs. Only this time, he came out on top and has something to look forward to.
Posted on: September 20, 2010 2:09 pm
The Spurs were my preseason pick to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals a year ago. It was my way of avoiding the cliched Lakers-Celtics prediction, but it also was founded in a belief that experience and a championship-tested core would mean something come June. I was only half right, and I don't think I'll be picking the Spurs or the Celtics to be the last two teams standing this time around. But I'm not willing to pronounce the end of San Antonio's dynasty, either. Thus, a somewhat optimistic Preseason Primer on Timmy, Tony, Manu and the gang:
San Antonio Spurs
Training camp site: San Antonio, TX
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Tiago Splitter (signed), James Anderson (draft).
Key subtractions: Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Keith Bogans (free agent), Ian Mahinmi (free agent).
Likely starting lineup: Tony Parker, PG; George Hill, SG; Richard Jefferson, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Antonio McDyess, C.
Player to watch: Duncan. At 34, Timmy most certainly is on his last legs. But accelerate reports of his demise at your own peril. Gregg Popovich says Duncan will report to camp even slimmer than he was a year ago, when he showed up having shed 15 pounds. The long-anticipated agreement with Splitter, the Brazilian big man drafted in 2007, will give Pop even more reason to be judicious with Duncan’s minutes during the regular season. The best power forward of his generation may also be the most boring, but enjoy his artistry while it lasts.
Chemistry quiz: If you ask Popovich a question about chemistry, he’s liable to launch into a rant about molecules and peptides and the like. That’s Pop. But the normally cohesive Spurs actually do have a bit of a concern heading into camp. Parker, the youngest of San Antonio’s Big Three at 28, appears to be getting anxious about his future in San Antonio and the viability of the Spurs’ aging core. Approached at his front-row seat after a Team USA exhibition at Madison Square Garden this summer, Parker brushed off questions about his situation and the coming season. “I’m on vacation,” he said. With the continued emergence of Hill, Parker’s demeanor and the Spurs’ commitment to him bears watching. Know this about R.C. Buford and his new (and old) front-office sidekick, Danny Ferry: If the wheels are coming off at the trade deadline, they won’t allow the window to close without positioning themselves for the future.
Injury watch: Anderson was limited this summer with a hamstring injury, but returned to the practice court last week. Parker is worth keeping an eye on after missing significant time last season with a broken right (shooting) hand, and Ginobili’s historically balky ankles are always a topic of conversation and potential dread among Spurs fans. (Shhh. I won’t even mention Duncan’s back.)
Camp battles: Despite their reputation for being the old-folks home of the NBA, the Spurs actually have some youth to integrate into the rotation. Some potentially very good youth. Aside from the obvious leaders of this movement, Hill and DeJuan Blair, Popovich s eager to take a look at some of the youngsters who excelled on the Spurs’ Summer League team, which went 5-0 in Las Vegas despite the notable lack of a lottery pick. Sharpshooter Gary Neal, 25, averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting in Vegas (including 17-for-34 from beyond the arc) and earned himself a three-year contract. Alonzo Gee, 23, and Curtis Jerrells, 23, a D-League callup last season, first-round pick Anderson, 21, and Garrett Temple, 24, also will get long looks in camp. Really, anyone under the age of 30 has a standing invitation to Spurs training camp just to pad the average-age statistic.
Biggest strength: They still have Duncan. And Parker. And Ginobili. And Popovich, who is as good as it gets from a strategic and leadership standpoint on the NBA sidelines. Splitter will not only help rest Duncan, but he’ll also help the Spurs in a notable category around the basket where they lagged last season: San Antonio was 11th in the league in having its shots blocked (5.09 per game).
Glaring weakness: Despite the influx of youth, the Spurs’ two most important players – Duncan, 34, and Ginobili, 33, – also are their oldest. But if the Celtics could get to the Finals last season with Kevin Garnett limping around like an octogenarian, well, maybe there’s hope that San Antonio’s window is still open. Just a sliver.
Posted on: December 27, 2009 10:02 pm
NEW YORK – Gregg Popovich was a lot more cheery after the game Sunday than he was before, when he openly lamented having arrived at the team hotel in Manhattan at nearly 4 a.m. – 14 hours before the Spurs were scheduled to play the Knicks.
“I think any team that can get in the night before a back-to-back and go to bed at 4 or 4:30 in the morning and play at 6 the next day, I think that’s a good thing,” Popovich said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “I think it puts a good product out on the floor. … It must be something that I don’t understand, because trips like this don’t make sense.”
After the Spurs’ overnight misadventures between Milwaukee and New York – ice, delays, the whole deal – Popovich actually was in a position to feel optimistic about his team for once. After beating the Bucks 112-97 Saturday night, the Spurs finished off the Knicks with an 11-4 run in a 95-88 victory. Popovich called this San Antonio’s most complete effort of the season in consecutive games.
The closing run against the Knicks was fueled by the Big Three: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. But this season has been about, and will continue to be about, the supporting cast that has changed around them. That’s why Popovich isn’t ready to declare the crisis over.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
The Spurs, architects of four championships on a shoestring budget, finally took the plunge over the luxury tax last offseason. Realizing that their window was closing while the big-spending Lakers were digging in for another dynasty, San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson and made this season about paying the price to win.
“The landscape has changed,” Popovich said. “We did it as long as we could, and we were great at it – trying to stay under the cap and still compete for championships. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit on the financial and management side. It got to the point where teams got so good and had so many good players. To stay in the hunt, there was a simple question: Do you want to compete for a championship? If you want to, you’ve got to spend the money. And so we did it this year.”
The result has been an inconsistent team trying to find its way, which is news to the Spurs, who have been a model of stability for much of the past decade. With three new starters and with longtime defensive stopper Bruce Bowen retired, the Spurs aren’t necessarily a better team than they were in the pre-luxury tax era. Just different.
How different? Duncan offered this painfully honest assessment.
“We’ve got to figure out the scheme that works for this team,” he said. “It might not be what’s worked for this team in the past.”
A third of the way into the season, the Spurs are 11th in points allowed per game (96.9), 13th in opponent field-goal percentage (.453), and 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). Those are ghastly numbers for a San Antonio team that has built a winning culture around defense.
The offense will come. Duncan, who had only 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday night, is on regular-season cruise control with his minutes being monitored as closely as ever. Ginobili, who had six of the Spurs’ final 11 points, played more freely in the past two games than Popovich had seen him all season. Parker, trying to figure out how to integrate Jefferson into the offense while keeping the focus on Duncan, will do whatever it takes to make it work.
The Spurs have won eight of 10, so it’s hard to nitpick. But they’ve been so good for so long, the standards for those watching them are as high as their own. The most encouraging statistic during this 10-game stretch is that San Antonio has allowed 100 points only twice. The most sobering stat: They lost to the only two teams with winning records that they played (Phoenix and Portland.)
“Look at all the other top teams in the league,” Jefferson said. “You look at Boston, they’re trying to integrate Rasheed Wallace. Look at Denver, they pretty much have their core, everybody back. The Lakers are trying to bring in Ron Artest, but they have everyone there. This is one of the few teams, us and Cleveland, that are good teams, but have a lot of new faces that they’re trying to get into the group.”
Popovich was asked before and after the game how long it should take for the Spurs to become the Spurs again – or become whatever it is they’re going to be. Of course, he said, “I have no idea. I don’t even try to figure that out. When it happens, it happens.”
And if it doesn’t, it could be a long time before the Spurs play the luxury tax game again.
Posted on: March 25, 2009 6:26 pm
ATLANTA -- Manu Ginobili will return to the Spurs' lineup Wednesday night against the Hawks after missing 18 games with a stress reaction in his right ankle. Tim Duncan, forced into extended minutes Tuesday night to secure a 1-point victory over Golden State, will get the second night of a back-to-back off to rest his ailing right knee.
The Spurs were 11-7 without Ginobili, whose minutes will be watched closely Wednesday night. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said there's "no sense of relief whatsoever" that Ginobili is back because he doesn't know how the ankle will respond to increased minutes.
"We have no idea if he's well and perfect," Popovich said.
Popovich had planned to limit Duncan's minutes to the teens Tuesday night, but was forced to extend him when the Spurs struggled in another close game. After speaking with the media, Popovich went to the trainer's room to speak with Duncan and emerged to report that he'll sit against the Hawks.
Popovich has rested his star players on and off since just before the All-Star break, but Ginobili's injury has been a legitimate and growing concern. Now, the Spurs have to focus on getting Duncan as healthy as possible for a playoff push.
Duncan has only three 20-point games since the All-Star break, missed three straight games at the end of February, and is unlikely to play both ends of back-to-backs the rest of the way as Popovich stresses health over playoff seeding down the stretch. The Spurs have two more sets of back-to-backs left -- April 7-8 and 12-13 -- as they hope to hang onto no worse than the third seed in the West so they can avoid having to play the Lakers until the conference finals.