NBA Finals: Popovich On The Down Low
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili get the credit for San Antonio’s success. Gregg Popovich, the Spurs’ coach, is often overlooked and forgotten about. This isn’t right. After all, he’s led the club to the NBA finals in three of the last eight seasons.
They’re known for his defensive style. Popovich starts every season by getting his players to focus on individual and team defense. Players who don’t defend lose their spot in the rotation. For example, Rasho Nesterovic can’t stop opposing centers and has spent the playoffs glued to the bench. This season, the Spurs allowed a league low 88.4 points per game and Popovich’s defensive approach makes them tough to beat.
San Antonio’s star players understand that their coach is in charge. In July of 2002, Popovich publicly criticized Parker who complained about the team eyeing Jason Kidd. In their recent series with Seattle, he took Ginobili out of the starting line-up. In both situations, Parker and Ginobili didn’t dare challenge Popovich’s authority. San Antonio wins because-unlike the Lakers and Timberwolves-the coach still runs the asylum.
Popovich always finds useful veterans. In 1997-1998, Mario Elie’s toughness helped the Spurs secure their first championship. Two seasons ago, Steve Kerr and Kevin Willis provided leadership. This year’s team is no different: Robert Horry has knocked down some big shots and Brent Barry has been solid.
Why doesn’t Popovich get the recognition he deserves?
Location. Location. Location. San Antonio is a quiet city and the Spurs are unable to get the same attention as teams in bigger markets. The national media will always cover the Knicks or the Lakers’ soap opera even though Popovich and the Spurs deserve star billing.
Great players can overshadow a talented coach. Popovich doesn’t get full credit because he’s worked with Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Call it the Phil Jackson effect. Still, he’s effectively managed Duncan and Robinson, and shouldn’t be penalized for having amazing players.
Unlike most NBA coaches, Popovich isn’t flashy. San Antonio’s benchboss doesn’t have Pat Riley’s hair, a Zen-master philosophy or George Karl’s self-assured smile. Popovich is from the military, so his only concern is winning.
The 2004-05 playoffs have shown that there’s one big difference between Detroit and San Antonio. The Pistons win in spite of coach Larry Brown, while the Spurs win because of coach Gregg Popovich. With another NBA title, “Pop” might finally get his due.
By Oly Sandor. Oly is an NBA analyst and a free-lance sports journalist based out Vancouver, Canada. Even after watching his hometown Grizzlies give Bryant Reeves 66 million dollars, Oly’s passion for hoops just couldn’t be denied. His NBA writing has appeared in hoopsvibe, basketball.com, insidehoops, eurobasket and Ballerz Magazine. Hit him back with an email at OlySandorNBAGuru@yahoo.com