Many will argue that Gregg Popovich may be the best coach in the NBA right now. Many more will argue, that despite his team’s Game 7 loss to Miami, he clearly out-coached Miami’s Erik Spoelstra. Popovich’s four NBA titles certainly places him among the greats, and nobody should question that. When a coach can get the most out of guys like Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, and Tiago Splitter, you know he has to do a little more than lean on his superstar players to win a title.
Despite all of Gregg Popovich’s successes, could he have really cost the Spurs the 2013 championship? Let’s take a look back at the epic Game 6 that should be on highlight reels for generations to come. For the first 47 1/2 minutes, Popovich was on his way to a 5th NBA Championship and taking names along the way. The Spurs ended the 3rd quarter with a 10-point lead, despite a monster quarter from LeBron James. Because of Tony Parker’s miracle shot making abilities and a very schemed defense from Popovich, the Spurs were in the driver’s seat even though Miami was turning up the heat. The Spurs were clinging to a 5-point lead with just :28 secs. to go in the 4th quarter. What does Popovich do in this critical moment? He benches his superstar center that has been at least a serious contributor to all 4 of Popovich’s championship runs.
You can put yourself in Popovich’s shoes and worry about the speed and athleticism of James, and Wade getting into the lane and creating. All series long, Duncan had proven he could sustain a good enough defensive effort against those more athletic guys for a limited period of time. The bigger problem for Popovich was benching the Spurs’ best rebounder when a rebound separated them from an NBA title. Any one of the Spurs could have just grabbed one defensive rebound, I get that. Why not have the best rebounder on the floor though?
You may ask, who does Popovich take out of the game instead of Duncan? I don’t know, how about Manu Ginobili? The leash for Manu is longer than the runway on Fast & Furious 6, and he played horrendously at times. You know it’s getting bad when he actually does something good and an announcer says “That was vintage Manu Ginobili!” The great “vintage” plays are only “vintage” because he can’t or was not capable of doing them when his team needed him the most.
In bitter conclusion for the Spurs, they could not maintain their nearly insurmountable 5-point lead in Game 6 because Gregg Popovich sat the wrong guy on the bench. I’m not saying Manu Ginobili is at fault, but between having him on the floor or Duncan in that moment is the difference between going home defeated and getting another ring.