Before Saturday night's preseason game between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich was asked about the comments Suns owner Robert Sarver made in the latter stages of the Suns' 121-90 win Thursday over the Spurs in Phoenix after three injured Spurs plus Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili stayed home. Also absent was Pop himself, who gave assistant Ettore Messina a chance to be the first European to coach an NBA game, albeit in preseason. Sarver apologized to Suns fans for the Spurs stars not participating in the game and offered them a gift in return. Pop said that he hadn't heard Sarver's comments, but when he had them relayed to him, he said this in response:
I think most wise individuals would check facts before they make statements. Unless you're interested in putting on a show, in that case, the facts can get in your way, as in this case. We had five guys we didn't send: Patty Mills had a shoulder operation, Tiago Splitter has been out the whole preseason with a calf, Kawhi Leonard was out and is still out 10 more days. The other two, Duncan and Ginobili, are two of the oldest guys in the league and just came back from a 13-day European trip. The only thing that surprises me is he didn't come out and say it in a chicken suit.
That's about as pointed as Popovich will ever get on a topic and objectively speaking, he had a right to be offended. Many teams, including the Heat tonight, don't play guys for all manner of reasons during the preseason, and no one apologizes for them. It's the preseason. It's all about getting everyone as healthy and ready to go for when the games count, and the 82-game season is a marathon, not a sprint.
The chicken suit reference, in case you're not familiar, goes all the way back to 2005 when Sarver, early in his ownership days back then, was miffed that Pop rested Duncan and Ginobili in a late-season game at Phoenix and made wing-flapping "chicken" gestures over at the Spurs bench, accusing them of being afraid of the Steve Nash-Amar'e Stoudemire-Mike D'Antonio Suns. Phoenix ended up winning 107-101 that night and did indeed earn the top seed in the playoffs, but the Spurs wound up beating them in five games in the Western Conference Finals on their way to their third championship.
It's not the first time Pop's used that chicken suit line, though he actually had an even funnier response the first time.
Now to the rest of the presser. Pop said that Tiago Splitter (calf), Kawhi Leonard (eye infection) and Patty Mills (shoulder) will all miss tonight's preseason game with Miami. In fact, the news isn't at all good for Leonard. "For Kawhi (the infection's) going back and forth between the two (eyes), it's crazy," Pop explained, while adding later on that he's expected to be out about 10 more days, which would push him right to the season opener versus Dallas.
Also, Tony Parker will be rested tonight, which will give more time for Cory Joseph and particularly Bryce Cotton, while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be out for Miami, who are in the back end of an unusual preseason back-to-back, having played the night before against the Warriors in Kansas City.