Like every other epic loss in sports history, a certain mythology has sprung up around the end of Game 6 of the Finals between the Spurs and the Heat. It's understandable for the defeat to be a sore spot for every Spurs fan, and each person deals with the loss in their own way. But over the past few weeks a few camps have sprung up in Spurs nation, blaming certain parties for the championship that wasn't; some implicate Pop's late-game decisions, others denounce Manu's turnovers, some indite Green for disappearing, and the rest are split between dogging Splitter and Parker.
As the off-season progresses, we're focusing on the details of the loss to determine whether any of these cases have merit, or whether they're just things that fans remember even though they have little basis in fact. So it's time to exhume the casket of the 2012/13 Spurs to see what exactly happened, and find out whether or not the mistakes of the past are destined to be repeated.
J. Gomez has already taken a look at these possibilities:
In this installment, I focus on Popovich's decisions. And since Gomez did such a good job on the first three parts, I've enlisted his help as a devil's advocate. He pulled together some of the recurring gripes about how Pop lost the game, and he'll be arguing the case against Popovich.
It's impossible to discuss Pop's involvement in game six loss without starting with his decision to change the lineup with the Spurs up five and 28.2 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Tim Duncan sat and the best rebounder left on the floor was Kawhi Leonard. Sure, you need to cover shooters but you also need to secure the ball if they miss. Just because the Heat go with five shooters doesn't mean the Spurs should immediately match.
Why did Pop make that substitution in a potentially title clinching game? Shouldn't the Spurs best rebounder, their leader, the living legend Tim Duncan be in the floor in such a defining moment?
If this was the first time Pop ever did this in a late-game situation, I'd understand the need for the question, but he's been doing this all year. In situations where the opponent is trying to come back with very little shot clock, and needs three-pointers, Pop's go-to defense consists of mobile defenders who can switch every pick, and contest every shot. He did it against both the Lakers and Sixers in January alone. Pop obviously believes that having a man on the shooter, so that he's not able to fully concentrate on the shot, is more important than anything else in these situations. Yes, even more important than having the team's best defender on the court in the game's final seconds.
But this was different. This was a championship game. Wasn't it worth a shot to change his approach for this particular game? If the Heat missed, which is obviously what the Spurs wanted and the reason they went with mobile defenders, all they needed was a rebound. Having Duncan out there would have helped in that area even if he hurt a little in terms of contesting. Similarly, the Spurs could have also fouled instead of risk conceding a three pointer on those last two plays. Make Miami hit a couple of free throws to stay alive and then hit yours. When Manu was asked about it by the Argentine press, his answer was "that’s not what we do." But the Spurs have no problem fouling poor free throw shooters intentionally. I guess what I have a hard time understanding is why Pop is so entrenched in his ways. For a guy that is lauded for his in-game adjustments, there are a lot of things he just won’t ever do.
It's not that he usually leans a certain way in specific situations. It's that he has sat down and decided which strategy he thought would produce the most wins if he stuck with it. And then he stuck with it. End of discussion. No debate.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Stampler's Take: It's a bit too soon to expect Kahwi Leonard to be a star
- This is likely Matt Bonner's last season as a Spur, and that's a sad thing
- Do you think you're smarter than R.C. Buford?
- Tim Duncan, Johnny Manziel and life in the fishbowl
- J.R. Wilco talks Kawhi Leonard and his pursuit of stardom on the Phil Naessens Show