If there is one thing Pop realized after last season's early exit, it is that he can't fully pin our playoffs hopes entirely on our veteran core to bring us to promised land, particularly in clutch situations... not when Tim Duncan's knees are failing him... not when Manu's elbow or whichever part of his brittle anatomy sustains another injury... not when Tony struggles to score... not when RJamnesty plays hide-and-seek, never to be found again. Pop finally realizes that he needs everybody, down to the last man on the bench, to be ready when "the moment" comes.
Truth be told that the playoffs is where great players thrive. Those mentioned above aptly fit that category (including RJamnesty to a much lesser extent, perhaps). Our big three are three of the most mentally tough players in the league. Their clutch reputation should be more than enough proof of that. A huge part of our playoff success will undoubtedly depend on their performance... but not in its entirety, most especially now that age has become more and more of a factor, particularly with Duncan (and also Manu with his seemingly reduced bone-calcium concentration). We need somebody else to step up when these great players' bodies are failing them... and consequently failing the entire team as well.
This brings us to the topic I want to discuss with you, Spurnatics. We might be used to having our top vets on the floor during clutch situations. Pop rarely fields in youngsters six minutes left in the fourth quarter of a tightly fought contest. But don't look now, that seems to be a thing of the past already... at least in this early part of the elimination round. Last season, a W had more value in Pop's mind, reason why with the exception of Gary Neal and George Hill, both guys proving to be mentally tough players themselves, he would normally field in the Tony-Manu-RJ-Timmeh-Dice five to close out games, regardless of whichever bench player was playing exceptionally well earlier in the ballgame.
Last season, Pop far valued W over E... E as in experience. When Manu's effectiveness suffered, Parker's shot not falling, and Timmeh's knees crumbling, all else failed, too. Now, Pop seems to understand that and he all the more seems so intent on risking games just to provide our neophytes the needed E they could acquire to prepare them for the truest of all true tests: the NBA playoffs. He wants them to feel the unbearable pain of losing games like the close ones we've lost, thus far... and he also wants them to feel the overwhelming joy of closing out games to earn a W. It sure is a slow and painful process, especially if we lose games we could have won easily had we fielded in our veteran core in the clutch. Pop is trying to mold them like a blacksmith hardens steel, putting them into the fire, just as he did to Tony and Manu in their younger years.
It's easy to fret and blame Pop for what one might consider as a coaching mistake, especially if the loss is as painful as the ones we recently had. Nevertheless, fact of the matter is that he isn't looking for playoff positioning as much as he did last season. He might not publicly admit it, but I know he feels like I do - that we have what it takes -talent and personnel- to bring home the bacon. I've been one of the very few guys here who think that we don't NEED a trade. That has been my stand even before the season went underway. The top seed that we had last season, even with Tiago's very limited minutes, and Tim's and Manu's injuries should mean something and shouldn't count for nothing. Many people continue to overlook that.
We can win this all the way... but that has to come with a few growing pains before we go to the next plateau. That is how I think Pop's brain works. He sees the beauty in the art of losing sometimes.