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Why I’m Still Irked at Coach Popovich


February 6th, 2009 by aswitzer

Earlier this week, NBA fans were robbed of a potentially great game.

On Tuesday night, the San Antonio Spurs were in Denver for a match-up between two Western Conference division leaders. Shortly before the game, the news came out that Manu Ginobli would not be dressed for the matchup, out with a bruised hip. We were also told that we should not expect to see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Michael Finley. For the Spurs, that’s the “Big Three” plus the some-time SF starter. This was only the 3rd time since Manu joined the Spurs in 2002 that they had played a game without all three of their top players, the last time of which, coincidentally, was also against the Nuggets.

The previous night, the Spurs had been taken to overtime by the lowly Golden State Warriors – eventually winning 110-105. Parker played 43 minutes, Duncan – 42, Finley – 36, and Ginobli 35. Admittedly, that’s a bunch of minutes for old legs like Duncan’s and Finley, but Ginobli’s around 31 years old, and Parker is 26. I know Ginobli’s still a moot case in this argument, but it seems like Popovich would have sat him anyway.

So, if the Nuggets ended up winning the game 104-96, why am I irked?

One, I’m irked as a fan because I was unexpectedly robbed of a great match-up and a chance to see the Nuggets clash with a top rival. Any chance to beat the Spurs is a chance to wash away a few of the memories of them crushing our playoff dreams twice in recent years. If I had had tickets to the game, I would have been even more mad as it ended up being somewhat of a mid-season exhibition match with the way it played out. The Spurs subs played hard, I don’t question that, but their JV’s really didn’t stand a chance against the Nuggets “varsity” squad. The Spurs have a great system and even their rookies and young players can succeed in it if they “opt-in” to what Popovich has been teaching there for many years. The Nuggets though, lost their focus from the outset and genuinely looked dis-interested for much of the game until it came down to winning time when they held off the Spurs without a major effort. I’d love to see the Nuggets be more professional and have put away the Spurs subs early in the game like they really could and should have, but that is just not the mental make-up of this team and squad. Not having two starters of our own for all or half the game (Martin and Billups) didn’t help matters on our side either.

Second, I’m actually irked at Popovich for pulling a very crafty strategy in his team’s favor. He full-well knew that the Nuggets were licking their chops and looking at the game as a measuring stick. With his squad on the road, and coming in at a definitely physical advantage, I think he took away the opportunity for the Nuggets to gain any potential psychological advantage by pummeling his team at the Pepsi Center, by basically pulling his team out of the game. Did he really need to rest all of his stars for the entire game? No – not really. Could have even put them in for limited minutes in the 2nd half when his subs had hung close enough for it to remain interesting and potentially winnable for much of the game? Sure! His team had the next 4 nights off before they would face the Boston Celtics this Sunday afternoon.

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