Pop rests Stars, Spurs come up short against Heat, 100-105

Mike Ehrmann

Without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson, the San Antonio Spurs lost a close one to the Miami Heat.

As soon as the news broke that Gregg Popovich had decided to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, the Twitterverse erupted with strong opinions. Some thought it was wise of Gregg Popovich, others felt robbed of what promised to be a great game and some pointed out that those in attendance were cheated out of their money. Theoretical arguments began sprouting in all directions. The poor TNT crew put so much work into the game and it was all a waste. Authors had pregame articles deemed moot. What about the poor Spurs fans that showed up and had their only chance to see Tim Duncan ruined?

It was quite the sob story. If you were a Spurs fan in attendance, you should have been thrilled with Pop's decision. Also, I feel like there's no such thing as this theoretical Spurs fan that can only afford this one game. Perhaps I am naive, but the argument is that the alleged fan found a way into this game, but can't do it again, ever? It's silly.

This game against the Miami Heat was the Spurs' second road game of a back to back. It's their fourth road game in five nights. It's their fifth road game in seven nights. Oh, and by the way, Miami's last game occurred on Saturday. Pop should have rested his players and did. It was the sensible thing to do.

This game was a scheduled loss. Pop said that it had nothing to do with the Miami Heat; it had to do with his team and rest. That is exactly right. The schedule deemed this game a loss, and Pop went with it. What seems to get lost on everyone is the road aspect of it all. These five games packed into a tight seven nights are all road games. That's much rougher on the players than if these were split between home and away. Basically, the argument that every team in the NBA has to play through four games in five nights, so why shouldn't the Spurs, is severely understating the Spurs' circumstance.

Twitter fights here and twitter fights there. You have to love the internet. Pop chose to rest our worn out players and in my opinion, it was the correct move.

Just before the game tipped off, TNT dropped this Stern bomb, "I apologize to all NBA fans, this was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."

The language Stern chose to use was, well, stern. The adjectives had chills going down my spine. Unacceptable, substantial and forthcoming. In my opinion, it's ridiculous. Popovich has done this before, several times. [See: DNP-Old] So why is it unacceptable on this occasion and not the others? In addition, the Spurs are not the only team that rests it stars on logical occasions. So why substantially sanction the Spurs and not the rest?

Also, what about the last three weeks of the season when the 10 worst teams in the league all sit their stars and try to lose in order to improve their draft position? If Stern is choosing to look San Antonio's way this time, he shouldn't look the other way when teams are obviously attempting to throw games. It's hypocritical to penalize the Spurs, and I realize that I haven't even gotten to the game yet.

The contest that was deemed an unwatchable travesty before tip-off became one of the most riveting games of the season. In addition to Popovich's decision to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, the Spurs were without injured Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. Those are, arguably, the Spurs' six best players. The Miami Heat played their usual lineup, probably since they had been off since Saturday.

The game began as expected. The Spurs looked lost offensively as they started Nando de Colo, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter. No, that was no typo. That's really who started the game. Patty Mills, born under a green light in Australia, shot seemingly every time he touched the ball with unflattering results. Defensively, Diaw had Lebron duties and it didn't go so well. With 6:30 remaining in the 1st quarter, Gregg Popovich was forced to call his first time out as the Heat quickly opened up a 10 point lead, 16-6.

So, this was exactly what I was expecting, and I was feeling sorry for myself. I have to write a recap about this boring game? I thought I'd ignore the game in my recap, as I am prone to do in Spurs' losses, and just write about the craziness of Stern. But I continued to watch, in seeming futility.

Out of the timeout, the game's pace slowed, in a favorable manner. The Spurs calmed down and began to swing the ball. Gary Neal hit a three and Nando got to the line to cut the lead to four. Suddenly, the game became competitive.

The next timeout was called by Miami. The Spurs had cut the lead to three, 17-20, and with the crowd quiet; the Spurs began to get into the rhythm of the game. I think it was at this point that the Spurs realized they could play with the Miami Heat. They had withstood the initial barrage, and worked their way back into the game. The scary Miami Heat from the game film were suddenly not so terrifying in person.

Quickly, a grievance with Sir Charles Barkley. Charles said that Gary Neal went to Patty Mill's school, because Gary was shooting it freely, as he always does. The Round Mound of Sit Down then said, after a Bonner made three, that Matt was 'one of the best shooters in the NBA.' To this, I take offense. You can't discount Neal and compliment Bonner in the same breath. In terms of ridiculousness, it's the square of Stern's threat, to choose an exponential benchmark at random.

The Spurs continued to play the game as well as they could. They forced Miami into settling for long twos, and after one quarter the Spurs led 27-22. There was no first quarter hero for the Spurs. San Antonio simply played good team basketball. Seven of the nine available Spurs scored in the first quarter, and all nine played more than four minutes.

In the second quarter, the Silver and Black fell victim to the turnover bug. They turned the ball over nine times to the Heat's two. Gary Neal led the turnover outbreak with four, but nearly everybody contributed, including the officials. The Spurs lost the quarter by eight points and went into halftime down three.

San Antonio maintained their poise in the third. Boris came to life on offense, scoring nine points in the quarter on four of six shooting. Now that was nice to see. Boris tends to pass up several shots each game because he loves to pass. It would behoove the Spurs in future games if Boris' selfishness came through more often. At the end of the third, the Spurs were up by three, 76-73.

The fourth quarter was a back and forth affair. The Spurs battled with the NBA Champion Heat and found themselves down by two with 7:20 remaining. They forced a few turnovers, drew a few fouls, hit a few shots and suddenly, the Spurs found themselves up four points with six minutes left on the clock. A bit later, Nando De Colo hit a huge three to put the Spurs up by seven with 4:45 remaining. This is where I'll stop the play-by-play. Unfortunately, despite a great effort, Lebron James took the game over down the stretch. He scored, rebounded and assisted the Heat to a victory.

But the Spurs simply competed tonight, and it was a joy to watch. The undermanned Silver and Black showed heart and treated viewers to one of the most entertaining games of the year.

So, David Stern, perhaps you spoke too soon? If the fans got their money's worth, and the television viewers couldn't look away, what exactly was unacceptable? I don't think there will be any sanctions against the Spurs. I believe that David Stern will recant his initial response tomorrow and all will be well.

Observations

I feel that the Spurs can dominate this Miami team with their full roster. The Heat have absolutely no size underneath the rim. With Tim playing as he has been, Miami will be forced to double Duncan, which means wide open shots for everyone else. Tiago Splitter took advantage of the Heat's lack of size. He scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 30 minutes. If Tiago can have his way with the Heat, imagine what Tim would do to them.

Dwayne Wade is playing hurt. I don't know what's wrong with him, but he is not healthy. The Heat should take a page from Pop's book and rest him. Miami will not be able to contend without a healthy Dwayne Wade, as we witnessed tonight.

The Spurs ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. More specifically, Gary Neal was playing on dead legs. He shot just one of seven in the final period and was clearly winded. Pop attempted to rest him, but it was not enough. It's not Neal's fault. He played 32 minutes in two consecutive games. That far surpasses his standard 21 minutes per. In addition, he had to create his own shot the entire night. Without the Big Three present, Neal had to work extremely hard for nearly every shot he took.

The Heat's addition of Ray Allen hurts. Allen is a great shooter and so very clutch. He made the biggest shot of the game against the Spurs tonight. He kept the Heat in this game, as ridiculous as it is that the Heat needed someone to keep them in the game. In the first half, Miami seemed willing to go down by double digits, but Allen kept it close. Ray Ray in a Heat jersey is an unfortunate situation for the rest of the league.

James Anderson played the game of his young NBA career. I'm not an Anderson fan, but I must admit that he showed his basketball aptitude tonight. James scored nine points while missing nothing more than a single free throw. He defended Lebron well and contributed four rebounds, three assists and a block without committing a single turnover. It's the first time since his rookie year that I've seen him play with full control of his game.

I've said it before; Nando de Colo will start for an NBA team at some point. Switch Tony and Nando. Imagine if the Spurs drafted Nando in 2001 when San Antonio desperately needed a point guard. If Nando was thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie as Tony was, and gained all the experience and development that came with it, where would he be today? All Nando is lacking is a mid-range jumper. His form looks nice enough, it just needs a little work; just as Parker's did when he entered the league. Nando's natural passing ability and ball handling skills are already elite. I hope Pop sees this and plays him as much as possible. Give him minutes, even if it doesn't help the team at first. It will be a great long term investment.

The Spurs play the Memphis Grizzlies this Saturday. Now that should be a treat. Given the team's close loss, and the Big Three suffering though this one from their homes, the Spurs will show up hungry for a victory.

The experience and confidence the bench gained from this battle is immeasurable. Go Pop Go!

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