San Antonio Spurs: Gregg Popovich raises white flag without sending players home


San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich handled a similar situation differently Thursday night and, at the very least, saved the franchise a cool quarter-million.

In December, the Spurs were preparing to play their fourth game in five nights and Popovich sent four players back to San Antonio rather than playing them in a nationally televised game in Miami against the defending champion Heat.

Commissioner David Stern, always sensitive to things like kowtowing to the league’s sponsors the integrity of the game, fined the Spurs $250,000.

On Thursday night, the Spurs were again playing their fourth game in five nights, this time at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.

Rather than sending Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili home this time, however, Popovich did what Papa Stern wanted him to do … and it may cost him Stephen Jackson for awhile.

Stephen Jackson was hurt when he stepped back after shooting a 3-pointer and tripped over a waitress who was taking an order from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s party.

Popovich said after the game that the decision in Miami was about “safety” and not “rest.” Jackson didn’t return to the game after limping to the locker room and Duncan, Ginobili and Parker spent copious amounts of time on the bench as the Knicks rolled to a 100-83 win.

That snapped San Antonio’s seven-game winning streak and provided a tonic for the suddenly struggling New York squad which had dropped five of its last eight games.

As Duncan has gotten older, teams have seemed to gain a benefit from catching San Antonio on the back end of back-to-back games. Duncan is having a renaissance season this year, averaging 18 points and almost 10 rebounds a game—his best numbers in four years—and his gimpy left knee seems to be holding up better than anyone in the San Antonio organization would have thought it would.

But Duncan looked slow Thursday night, as did many of the Spurs. Duncan scored 11 points and sat out the final 15 minutes of the game.

Even with the loss Popovich kept his sense of humor.

Told that New York coach Mike Woodson had called San Antonio the best team in the league, Popovich cracked, “Woody said we’re the best in the league? He’s full of it. He learned that trick from Larry (Brown).”

In any case, San Antonio’s 26 wins are the most in the league—as are its 35 games played thus far. The early schedule has been tough for the Spurs, but they may wind up reaping the rewards of that busy early slate by having a bit more time off later in the season as they gear up for another playoff run.

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