MIAMI Had the Miami Heat lost Thursday, perhaps David Stern would have fined them.
Or maybe somebody else would have.
Itd have been embarrassing, Heat center Chris Bosh said of possibly falling to Spurs Lite. The coaches probably would have fined us.
In a very bizarre night in the NBA, the Heat prevented it from becoming even more odd by defeating undermanned San Antonio 105-100 at AmericanAirlines Arena. With the game out of the way, this now comes down to two very headstrong guys: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich vs. NBA Commissioner Stern.
It began when it was revealed Popovich, with the Spurs playing their fourth game in five nights, would not use San Antonio stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker as well as Danny Green. Popovich went so far as to send them home on a commercial flight Thursday morning from Orlando, where they had played the night before.
The move infuriated Stern. Before the game, which was nationally televised on TNT, he released a statement saying, I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.
So whos wrong?
Both Popovich and Stern.
Popovichs actions were excessive, although I will credit him in these tough times for being financially prudent by sending the four Spurs home in coach on Southwest Airlines. Business Select tickets, according to the Southwest website, would have cost the Spurs 472.80 apiece for a total of 1,891.20, although each player would have gotten a complimentary beverage of his choice.
Popovich said he wanted to rest the players for Saturdays big home game against Memphis after the Spurs had concluded a six-game, 10-day trip with the four games in five nights. But it is only November, and did Popovich really have to sit them all out?
Duncan is 36, Ginobili 35 and Parker 30, while Green is just 25. But Popovich said Green was lumped in with the old buys because he has been playing a lot of minutes lately.
It is pretty logical, Popovich said before his gritty understudies made a game out of it, leading 98-93 with two minutes left before previously lackluster Miami came back and took the lead for good at 100-98 on a Ray Allen 3-pointer with 22.6 seconds left. I dont think it was a tough decision at all. In fact, the decision was made when the schedule came out.
It wasnt logical to Stern, who wasted no time in having his PR people draft a statement. But Stern should have waited until at least after game before revealing his thoughts. His sharply worded statement made Popovich look like the more sympathetic figure in all of this, and Sterns statement could have been tempered after it was seen how competitive the Spurs (13-4) were against the Heat (11-3).
Stern perhaps was so upset because the game was set for TNT, which has paid the NBA billions of dollars over the years. Perhaps Stern thought Popovich was trying to show the league up even though the coach claimed his decision had nothing to do with whether it is on TV or not.
Popovich should have taken into consideration this was a big game against the defending champions on national TV. One reason he makes such a big salary is due to the huge bucks paid by the networks.
If Popovich really thought he needed to rest players, why couldnt he have done it Wednesday at Orlando, a game that got little NBA attention. The players would have gotten that day off and still had a day off Friday prior to the one Saturday against the Grizzlies. And the Spurs, who crushed the Magic 110-89, might have had a better chance to have won both games in Florida.
As for Charles Barkley, he might work as an analyst for TNT. But the Hall of Famer made it clear he supports Popovich and not Stern in this clash.
Ive got to go with Coach Popovich, Barkley told FOX Sports Florida. He knows whats best for his team The game being on TNT might have something to do with (Stern being so upset), but it shouldnt matter. Theyve (rested players) before, so why didnt Commissioner Stern do anything about it then? Why is he doing something now?
Barkley does have a point. Popovich has rested a multiple players in games on a handful of occasions, although he more often has done it late in a season as well as having done it three times during the taxing 2011-12 lockout-shortened campaign.
I was there for one of the first times Popovich did it well before the end of a season. Much to everybodys surprise, he sat Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Michael Finley out for a Feb. 3, 2009, game at Denver.
As they were Thursday, the Spurs were gritty that night, losing 104-96. But the loss might have cost them since they finished the season 54-28 and tied with the Nuggets for the second-best record in the West. But Denver won the tiebreaker, relegating San Antonio to No. 3.
The long-term effects of Thursdays defeat remain to be seen. Perhaps it will result in the Heat getting homecourt advantage over the Spurs in the NBA Finals.
In the court of opinion, though, most seem to be siding with Popovich. One reason is Sterns statement gives the impression hes an aging, vindictive guy trying to throw around as much power as he can before he retires Feb. 1, 2014.
I dont think Pop was in the wrong, said Heat forward LeBron James, who scored a game-high 23 points. Its not in the rules to tell you that you cant not send your guys here or send your guys home. But the commissioner will make his decision, and everybody else will deal with it.
Stern actually did fine the Los Angeles Lakers 25,000 when then coach Pat Riley didnt play healthy starters Magic Johnson and James Worthy in the 1989-90 regular-season finale at Portland. But that was before it became commonplace in the NBA to rest players at the end of seasons, and not a peep had been heard before from Stern when Popovich had sat out guys.
Nevertheless, sending so many players home Thursday and not even bringing them to Miami gives the impression Popovich is mocking the NBA. And it was ridiculous for Popovich to say he doesnt care if this was regarded as a marquee game.
Im sure a lot of people were disappointed to not be able to watch two of the best teams in the league play, said Bosh, who wished he could have faced the real Spurs. Im always a competitor . We only play them two times a year, we only get ahold of them once here.
But Bosh would have been a lot more disappointed had the Heat suffered a very embarrassing loss. He might have fined himself.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson