Further Review: Spurs 'Pop' out against Heat
Column by Ken Cohen
July 5, 2013 I have to go back to the San Antonio Spurs epic collapse against Miami in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and subsequent loss in Game 7 to bequeath the championship to the Heat. Only one other time have I felt so sick following a sporting event when Tom Watson, at age 59 and needing only to par the final hole to win the British Open, bogeyed and ended up losing in a playoff. It just ripped right through me as did this Spurs loss.
In the Spurs case, it was also maddening because inept coaching by Greg “Pop” Popovich had a big say in the outcome. He choked, though he blamed it on his team's inferiority.
"It was a great series and we all felt that," said Popovich after Game 7. "I don't know if 'enjoy' is the right word, but in all honesty, even in defeat, I'm starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already, when you look back. And you need to do that, to put in perspective. So it's no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team. And you can live with that as long as you've given your best, and I think we have."
A better team? Wrong. The Spurs were every bit as good as the Heat, if not better. They were one rebound or free throw away from winning the title. Perhaps the Spurs lost to a better-coached team which almost never happens with Popovich, one of the all-time great coaches. But as they say in sports, you're only as good as your last game and honestly, Pops was simply awful in Game 6.
Even Magic Johnson, who normally takes it easy on his NBA brethren, unloaded on Popovich after Game 6 for making several huge mistakes. The biggest blunder was resting Tim Duncan and Tony Parker at the start of the fourth quarter when the Spurs held a 10-point lead. It didn't take long for the Heat to pounce on the Spurs without their two best players, wiping out the deficit and actually taking the lead. As the onslaught continued, Duncan and Parker sat.
Johnson couldn't believe that Popovich would try to rest his two guns when everything was on the line and there was a chance to knock out the champs. As Johnson said on the ABC broadcast, "you have to seize the moment and go in for the kill." That was no time to stick to routine it was time to stick it to the Heat.
That was just the beginning of what would become a string of flat-out bad coaching moves by Popovich. Why did he leave Manu Ginobli in the game so long? He turned the ball over eight times, missed everything and was completely out of sorts. But this is really minor compared to his end-of-game decisions.
First, with the Heat needing three-pointers in the final 28 seconds, he takes out his best rebounder in Tim Duncan to try and get more speed in defending the three-point shot. Understandable strategy, but you can't forget about the possibility of a missed shot. Who's going to grab the rebound, especially when Miami still had its big man in the game? The rebound of a missed three-pointer is just as important as defending the three-pointer.
He did this not once, but twice in the final 28 seconds. We all know what happened. Not once, but twice Miami missed its initial three-point attempt, was able to grab the rebound and send the ball back out for a second three-point attempt. Both times they converted to ultimately send the game to overtime.
Why even give the Heat a chance to get off any three-point shots? Foul. I know there are other coaches who don't believe in this strategy and I can never understand why. Because one time a few years ago, some player was able to act out getting fouled in while shooting and was awarded three free throws. Nine times out of ten that won't happen. I say you have to foul there to avoid any chance of a three-point shot even getting airborne.
Then, of course, once the first three-pointer was missed with six seconds left and Bosh grabbed the rebound (because Duncan was sitting), you have to foul Bosh. The game is over if you do. But the Spurs did not, Bosh was able to get the ball to Ray Allen and he hit the game-tying shot.
Once in overtime, with 40 seconds left and trailing by one, Pop had his best player on the bench. That's right, Tony Parker was not in the game during the most important possession of the season. That's why you have superstars so they can do super things at the end of games.
By all indications, Pop was not in the game either.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.