Dan Wetzel gets it half right, or a bit more, in high column describing how San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's questionable substitutions and no-foul strategy at the end of regulation and during overtime of Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat cost his team the game, but I don't think even Wetzel goes far enough on the man that ESPN's Bill Simmons is ready to put up as the fourth face on the Mount Rushmore of NBA coaching genius, along with Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.
Let's start earlier in the fourth quarter.
Despite how Pops allegedly isn't a sentimentalist, I can't think of any other explanation for why he left Manu Ginobili in the game as long as he did earlier in the fourth. I mean, everybody else in the world could see that he had become the Miami Turnover Machine. And, related to that, why did he leave Boris Diaw on the bench as long as he did into the fourth when, unlike Manu, Boris was putting together his second consecutive solid game, and also, unlike Manu, doing a better job of "playing within himself"?
From there, then, we've set the stage for Wetzel's further analysis.
It concerns Pops' subbing in and out for Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, mainly, subbing out for Duncan and not getting him back in on two key occasions that let Chris Bosh get key rebounds.
And Wetzel won't let him off easy.
If Indiana's Frank Vogel is shredded for pulling out 7-foot Roy Hibbert and leaving the rim exposed for LeBron in a critical loss in the Eastern Conference finals, then Popovich can be questioned for going with Diaw over Duncan with the title on the line.That said, per my thought, both Diaw and Duncan should have been in there, and Manu OUT.
And, Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie blog points out it could have been worse, on the substitutions. It was illegal, the blog says, to put Duncan back in the game while refs were reviewing Ray Allen's shot to make sure it was a 3. My question: did Pops know that and do it anyway, know that but forget in the heat of battle, or not know that? Neither 1 nor 3 is good, if true. (And I'm guessing that's a technical if refs catch it.)
From there, it goes on to the issue of Pops refusing to foul when Miami was in a situation where it had to shoot 3s, when Bosh grabbed that offensive board late in regulation.
Pops said that is simply not his policy.
He comes off making it look like it's not macho enough to deliberately foul when you're up by 3 rather than try to play "hard-nosed," or whatever phrase he would use, defense to lock down on 3-ballers.
Well, no, it's very smart, and it's not "weak" or worse. I guess this is Pops the Air Force guy slipping through. And, if that idea of macho is going to override his brains on a regular basis, that alone is reason enough to keep him off Mount Rushmore.
And, there's good reason to say that.
Since the Spurs' last title, in 2007, as the Spurs' own Danny Green demonstrated in the first five games of the Finals, the NBA world has changed a lot, especially on the 3-ball. Therefore, if you're such an alleged genius, you should change how you defend the 3-ball. That includes using the foul as a strategic defensive tool.
Wetzel also faults Pops for not calling a time out after Miami's last points, with 8.8 ticks in overtime left. I'll expand on that and go back to my original complaint.
In addition to his poor substitutions earlier in the game, I think Pops had poor use of timeouts in trying, or not trying, to keep the Miami crowd from getting back in the game as the Heat made its comeback run. Maybe that's more "macho" by Pops. If so, it's another #fail.
Kelly Dwyer notes one other occasion when Pops could have used a time out and didn't.
He also notes that the Spurs were gassed at times in the second half, and definitely in OT. LBJ's block on Duncan is testimony to that. That "old" issue, which looked like Manu put it to rest in Game 5 and Duncan in the first half of Game 6, may be alive and kicking.
But, that too gets back to Pops. In addition to substitution questions and time out use questions in the fourth quarter, it includes game pace issues. As in slowing it down, and getting his team to recognize that.
And, no, I don't expect the Spurs to win Thursday. The 1978 Bullets were the most recent team to win a Game 7 in the Finals on the road, and that was before the current 2-3-2 games match-up. Before them, the 1969 Celtics were the only other team to do it.
So, Pops will likely have a long summer to think about tactical fouling as part of defending against 3-pointers. And, if you can't learn the right answer, then, as a coach, you're as old as Timmy D. and Manu as players, and you should retire when Duncan does. Maybe this is a small part why it's been six years since you've even been to the Finals.
The NBA's gotten a lot more 3-friendly since 2007. Green's performance in Games 1-5 shows that. And that, not just his scoring, is why LeBron was guarding Parker more. Eric Spolestra wanted to shut down his drive-and-kick, too. That's also why Manu's Miami Turnover Machine hurt so much. Half of them were off drives with inaccurate kicks.
As for particular situations? Somebody should have hammered Bosh's ass on that end-of-regulation rebound, before he could pass to Allen. Under 30 seconds left in a game, three-point differential? Hey Pops — learn how to foul.
This all said, let's also repeat something else.
This is also about the Spurs' age. We saw that in the second half, especially the fourth quarter and OT. Does Pops need to get the team to slow it down more? Be more selective in its running? Stall just a bit more coming out of timeouts? Stall just a bit more at the free-throw line?
Probably all of the above and more. If he wants to get back on the coaching short list for Rushmore, it would be helped by learning how to steal seconds, and do anything else he can, to make the pace better, and find more rest, for his team.
And, I'm angry about the loss because I don't like the Heat. I haven't ever since Dwyane Wade got all the phantom foul calls against the Mavericks in 2006. I haven't liked them even more since "The Decision" to start the 2010-11 season.
And, just because Commissioner David Stern hates the Spurs, I want the last NBA trophy he presents have to go to San Antone.
And, given that no road team has ever won both Games 6 and 7 to win a Finals since we went to the 2-3-2, the Spurs' best chance was last night.