There is only one Gregg Popovich. Only one coach in the entire NBA that is secure enough, confident enough, crazy enough to allow a lineup devoid of any veteran presence continue playing basketball even when they have fulfilled their job.
A typical bench, in that situation, aims to make the game respectable and (if everything goes completely right) then hands the game off to the starters when the intensity ratchets up to the highest level and reality sets in. We can't win this game by ourselves, our success will not last, we need Timmy and TP here.
Only Pop thought differently. As a Spurs fan, yes, I want the win. I want Timmy and TP in the game not because I don't have any faith in our bench to close out basketball games but because I have more faith in Timmy and TP to withstand the inevitable rally from the Mavericks.
The rally came and our young players stood up remarkably well to the pressure the Mavs were exerting on us. Much better than anyone could've possibly anticipated. They stood back, continued to rotate defensively, knock down open 3-pointers and occasionally passed up good looks for even better looks. Textbook basketball. Confidence. Cool under pressure.
There must've been some tangible aura, something click in Danny Green, Gary Neal and James Anderson's head. Something. Because they were on in every aspect. It was an incredibly fun, chaotic and exhilarating fourth quarter to watch. Surreal nights like these don't happen very often and I really wish we had pulled out the win. On the surface, the difference between 13-8 and 12-9 isn't drastic enough to begin pulling your hair out.
Yet, as I analyze our game, I keep coming back to Pop's decision to stick with Neal, Anderson, Green, Bonner and Splitter. Confidence. Of course we can't quantify how much more confidence Anderson, Neal, Green and Splitter have now than they did yesterday. You can't measure confidence. You can only hope that, when the situation arises, your players are ready.
Maybe basketball can be boiled down to talent and confidence is just a product of a team's collective talent. Without a numerical value attached, confidence could just be another sportswriter cliche that holds no weight. By believing in his team, Pop felt the immense reward of winning a game, resting Timmy and TP and inspiring confidence in the roster top-to-bottom was well worth the inherent risk of blowing (another) winnable game. I tend to agree.
We might regret saving our starters for playoff run that will never materialize. Then again, we could turn into a juggernaut, while heavy at wing, that could go 11 deep on any given night. As of now, there are nine teams separated by five games in the Western Conference. The Spurs are that ninth team.
If Pop's gamble fails, at least we come out of the game knowing that our guys can play under adversity. That we won't lay down like the Lakers last year. There is nothing worse than rooting for a basketball team that just doesn't care anymore.
The beauty of yesterday's game?
We'll never know if Pop's gamble paid off until April.