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Heat barely beat undermanned Spurs, but controversy will linger beyond this game

Nov 29, 2012, 11:23 PM EDT

Gregg Popovich AP

The Heat did what they’ve been doing all season long on Thursday, which was play down to the level of their competition for the majority of the night, before ending up with a win after all is said and done.

Yes, Miami took care of the Spurs 105-100, but it wasn’t the same Spurs team that got out to a 13-3 record to start the season. That team featured Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili all playing a heavy role in the outcome of San Antonio’s first 16 games of the year, but they weren’t even in the arena for this one, after being sent home by head coach Gregg Popovich to rest well before things even got started.

But between the Heat coasting and the Spurs reserves playing hard and with purpose, San Antonio was in the game all night long, and even held a seven-point lead with under five minutes to play after what seemed like a back-breaking three from Nando De Colo that was launched from a few feet beyond the top of the three-point arc.

Down the stretch, Miami’s offense ran through LeBron James, and the Heat were able to take the lead they would never relinquish thanks to a Ray Alen three-pointer — one that was assisted, of course, by James.

San Antonio got big performances from Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter, and had five players in double figures which kept the Heat guessing defensively. Despite the fact that the usual starters weren’t there, the Spurs that did play did so with a familiarity and team cohesion that is truly a credit to Popovich and his coaching style.

As for the Heat, this effort was par for the course. They similarly struggled with a far less talented Cleveland Cavaliers squad at home less than a week ago, only to rally in the game’s final two minutes to come away with the win. And, they needed overtime to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks at home just a few days before that.

With that being said, and despite the game’s competitive nature and the fact that it wasn’t decided until the final few possessions, Popovich’s decision was wrong, and David Stern said as much in a statement released shortly before tip-off.

That will be the lingering memory from this game — not the gutty effort of the Spurs reserves, and not the fact that the defending champs coasted to another home victory over a team less talented.

Popovich resting his star players will be the catalyst of conversation for days to come, and as Stern warned in his statement, so will whatever punishment he has in mind for the Spurs organization breaking a rule that, up until this point, has never formally existed.

  1. savvybynature - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:27 PM

    Nah, there is no controversy.

    Pop chose to rest his best players, and then the Heat won fair and square. Nothing controversial about that.

    It’s just a slow news night with only 2 games, so you guys are trying to make it controversial cuz you got nothing else to do.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    How many times can it be said that Popovich has done this before? Why is it such a big deal now? Because he did it against the Heat? Who cares. The schedule-makers screwed the Spurs on their schedule and they did what they needed to do for the LONG-TERM health of their squad.

    I hope Popovich fights Stern on this one because it would suck if Stern sticks his fat head into a team’s business and tries to make a big deal out of a meaningless November game.

    • eventhorizon04 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:12 AM

      I think the fact that it was a nationally televised game early in the season that made it a big deal.

      Whether it’s again the Heat, OKC, or Lakers, this issue would have cropped up.

      For what it’s worth, I think Pop has the right to rest his players. I’m just saying that the issue wasn’t the opponent (the Heat), it was the status as a nationally televised game.

      • manchestermiracle - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:41 AM

        Which likely wouldn’t have been a nationally-televised game if the opponent hadn’t been the Heat.

      • eventhorizon04 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:52 PM


        You don’t think Spurs-OKC or Spurs-Lakers games would be nationally televised??


  3. bucrightoff - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    Popovich was already a legend but this was an all-timer. The biggest FU possible to Stern, giving him a great game and nearly becoming the troll god in victory. That was as fun a regular season game I can remember, it was like a 16 vs a 1 in the NCAA tournament, and as usually the 1 seed found a way. Stern should be fired by the owners if he fines the Spurs or Popovich

  4. dadeyemi - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:35 PM

    Screwed the Spurs? That’s a moronic statement. Their last 4 games were IND, TOR, ORL, and WAS, all crappy clubs and he chooses a nationally televised game to pull this stunt? Keeping in mind that the big 3 averaged TWENTY FOUR MINUTES a person the last 2 games? Stop drinking the Kool Aid

    • savvybynature - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:43 PM

      You know who the Heat played those nights? No one. You know how many minutes the Heat’s big 3 averaged on those nights? 0. They’ve been off since Saturday.

      If Stern wants to make sure his nationally-televised games are competitive, he should make sure both teams get equal rest going into the game. But rather than look in the mirror and take responsibility, he throws a tantrum and acts like a child not getting his way. He is a joke and the bottom line is he has no say in which players a coach chooses to play.

      Thank goodness Tebow plays football or Stern would be fining teams for not giving him playing time, lest ratings suffer.

  5. glink123 - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    The reason this is an issue is because the game was nationally televised on TNT. At this point, this has nothing to do with Pop. This is now all about Stern and Spurs ownership. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits the owner with a fine in excess of $1 million.

  6. trippymane - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    Wow what would the score be if Miami played without its 4 best player’s?SAS has so much depth

    • eventhorizon04 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:17 AM

      Overreacting to a regular season game = haven’t been watching the NBA too long.

      • eventhorizon04 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:17 AM

        The Charlotte Bobcats last year beat the Bulls AND the Heat in the regular season.

        How good was their roster?

  7. jjordannba - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    Ray Allen is the Heat’s best closer on the team, Wade and Bosh don’t even touch the ball during crunch time anymore. It’s the Lebron & Ray show.

    Now the Heat actually have an actual high FT % Guy to throw the ball to when the other team decides to intentional foul, and as you can see when Lebron penetrates and kicks out this is not Battier or Mike Miller who were okay in those situations last year, this is an Elite Clutch 3-Point shooter. Ray Allen will lead the league in game-winners this year, he already has 3.

  8. 1972wasalongtimeago - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    The Spurs 2nd team would be the 2 seed in the East. Those guys were good. As far as our beloved Heat goes, there was a time when the criticism was that they couldn’t perform in crunch time. Now they only perform in crunch time. I like it this way better.

    • nycalldayz - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:59 AM

      Okay, but Miami barely defeated the Spurs JV team. I don’t the Heat would look too good in the western conference.

      • deeballer - Apr 1, 2013 at 1:38 PM

        That’s the most idiotic comment made about the Heat not being so good in the WC. How could you say that when they beat every elite team in the WC this year and some twice. They also beat OKC for the championship. I still don’t know how you could formulate such an assumption without any numbers to back it up.

  9. glink123 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:01 AM

    I wouldn’t waste my money on tickets to see the Heat play the Spurs in San Antonio on March 31st. Wade, Bosh, and James won’t be there.

  10. frug - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    You know if I didn’t know any better I would think that it was Popovich’s job to do what was in his team’s best long term interest instead of making TV networks happy.

  11. jerdogthompson - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:14 AM

    Word. What’s next, Stern will mandate how many minutes each star player will play? Give it a rest Stern you’re on thin ice butt weed.

  12. libertynchurch - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:24 AM

    The NBA and TNT has a nearly one billion dollar business partnership. The NBA, and the Spurs, are obligated to provide the best show possible. By willfully not putting the best team on the floor, the Spurs must be fined. The Commissioner must prove to the TV honchos that the principle of delivering the best show possible is viewed as sacrosanct by the NBA, and all of its teams. The commissioner should calculate the Spurs share of the TNT contract for one game, and fine the Spurs double this amount.

    I remember when the NBA Finals were on tape delay. The NBA cannot allow the Spurs to bite the hand that feeds the entire league.

    • blue18hutthutt - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:56 AM

      I agree with this powerful post

    • savvybynature - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:16 AM

      You’re thinking of the Harlem Globetrotters. They’re the ones obligated to put on the best show possible.

      Pop and the Spurs are just trying to put themselves in position to win a title. That’s it.

      You act as if teams shouldn’t be allowed to rest players at the end of blowouts either, or that they should have to play injured players.

    • ryanrockzzz - Nov 30, 2012 at 7:42 AM

      Yes, but Stern should be wise enough to know that this isn’t the first time and won’t be the last time the Spurs did this. They can make the schedule, and they can manipulate the teams that represent the league from afar to casual fans, TV executives and many more demographics.

      The point that the Spurs should have their top tier players in a nationally televised game makes perfect sense. However when you have a team with a coach who doesn’t care at all about TV ratings and just wants to save his team for the 82 game regular season (which is only that long to make more money for the league, and improves TV revenue), then the NBA shoudl be smart enough not to be shocked if key players may be resting, especially giving the imbalance of schedules for the two teams, and the history.

      Also, we can’t all overlook the fact this game was way closer then it should have been. Do the Heat get chastised for not stepping up against an inferior opponent, who was not trying to put the best product out there. If there was such a discrepancy, then the Heat would have won by 30. So maybe they were not giving the viewers the best show either….

      • jrose606 - Nov 30, 2012 at 8:31 AM

        ryan, you have laid out the slippery slope perfectly. Stern is just itching to go down it.

  13. hybes1 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:26 AM

    I think the Spurs will feel Sternapoloen’s wrath about sitting down Timmy D & the boys. Why not sit-out when they played the Wizards or heck, play a few minutes & then sit them. Not a good precedent especially when playing the Heat

  14. eagles512 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:53 AM

    I actually agree with stern…resting is one thing but sending them home on a plane is a joke.

  15. kinggw - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:40 AM

    I think Stern was right to make a stink about what Pop did tonight. Its not about the game being nationally televised, its about people paying a lot of money to see certain players play and there wasnt a legitimate reason why they didnt play.

    I understand the Spurs have done this before, but the last time they sat all of the big three it was April. This kind of thing generally happens at the end of the season when teams are resting players in preparation for the playoffs, not a month into the season.

    • pglive21 - Nov 30, 2012 at 10:01 AM

      So what if this type of thing “generally” happens at the end of the season? Are you saying that it is a viable strategy at the end of the season but not at the beginning? That doesn’t make any sense. Popovich knows his players better than anyone and he knows the type of rest they need to make an impact in the playoffs. Their top 3 guys have accumulated a lot of miles on those legs. Over the past 10 years they’ve probably played an extra season and a half (just an estimate) extra in playoff games compared to some other teams. The point is that it’s not Stern’s decision to make and there is no rule in place that governs who must suit up and play at games. That is completely the coach’s discretion.

  16. hoodheisman - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:56 AM

    This is exactly why Phil Jackson always put an asterisk by the Spurs…. Fake…. A real contender would never take “the night off” against the defending NBA champs. If Popovich had asked Kobe to take the night off against the Heat, Kobe would have asked Popovich to resign. The Spurs showed their true colors tonight.

    It’s just not looking good in the West right now. The Spurs are still an asterisk, OKC went limp and got rid of Harden, and short Buss took a team built for Phil Jackson’s triangle and replaced it with organized chaos….

    /shakes head

    • ron05342 - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:51 AM

      Yes, I am indeed shaking my head at your ill-advised comment.

    • paulwoodsby - Nov 30, 2012 at 3:14 AM

      Don’t blame the team for a decision Popovich made.

      phil jackson ALWAYS had some excuse for everything that went wrong.

    • ryanrockzzz - Nov 30, 2012 at 7:36 AM

      Or this is actually a super smart thing to do because Pop has been around his team every day and with the same core for years, so he knows how they react to a long season. If they were taking a “night off” then they would all just forfit the game. The bigger issue is if the Heat took a “night off” mentally to have such a close game against an undermanned squad.

    • rtfinch - Nov 30, 2012 at 8:25 AM

      You think Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli wanted to sit? I doubt Popovich even gave them an option, so what does that tell you about Phil, to let a player tell him when he will and wont play.

      • scalfor3 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:36 PM

        Phil Jackson has never lost a game. Just ask him.

  17. libertynchurch - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:05 AM

    @savvy No one is questioning the Spurs motives. No one is questioning Popovich’s ability to navigate a team to an NBA Championship. And no one should question The Commissioners ability to market and grow the League. The Spurs could have been a whole lot more creative in doing what it did. But they chose to be straight-up guys, and not even bother with inventing excuses.

    Now, the Commissioner will teach them that being straight-up is not always the best way to be, IN BUSINESS! As a straight-up organization, they will pay the fine without much protest. And all of the other teams, and TV business partners will clearly understand that the League acknowledges that all games are not created equal, especially when someone pays a billion dollars for a specific set of games.

    Now, you might complain about the influence of TV on the sport, but that would be a very short-sighted, narrow view of things. The League needs TV, and the Commissioner is just doing his job to protect this relationship by clarifying to the Spurs what is, and what is not, acceptable business practices.

    Lastly, your analogy using the Harlem Globtrotters, is not worthy of any response.

  18. magicbucs - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:18 AM

    First stern keeps Stan van Gundy off espn now he wants to fine pop or spurs for resting his aging players on TNT


  19. thekidfromapt7 - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:23 AM

    So everyone that thinks what coach pop did is wrong, do you all believe that David Stern and the fans should be the ones who decide a team’s lineup and not the coach of the team?

  20. magicbucs - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:23 AM

    If you didn’t pay to be at the game, shut up. Who cares. The coach should be able to do what he wants. It’s his players.

    I’m sure stern will put a national tv ban on the spurs for a couple years other than the playoffs. I’m sure pop could care less.

  21. funktron2x - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:29 AM

    Lol. Phil Jackson and his asterisk. Them’s sour grapes cuz Phil can’t help but be impressed that the Best Coach Ever has won his titles without the help of the LA market and the absolute necessity of multiple big-name all-stars. Pop is a legend, and Phil knows it and it eats at his pompous, arrogant soul.

    • Kurt Helin - Nov 30, 2012 at 3:16 PM

      Um, Pop had Duncan and Robinson and Parker and Ginobili. Nobody wins a title without talent on the roster.

  22. ron05342 - Nov 30, 2012 at 2:49 AM

    No, you are wrong, Brett, because this thing is going to die a quick death. Stern will trot out some flunky from his office and say something to the effect of “never mind.” Since Stern has already made a fool of himself by showing his hand BEFORE the game, now he faces the consequences of his actions.

    If Miami had blown out the Spurs by 20 or more, then he would be justified. But since the Spurs almost pulled it out (God I wish they had just to see Pop’s smirk), Stern is left holding his manhood in his hand. He knows now he should have waited for the outcome, and then he could have just let it go.

    But by showing his hand early, he has shown all of us that his judgment and timing is becoming increasingly questionable. It really is time for him to go NOW. Not 14 months from now, NOW.

  23. savvybynature - Nov 30, 2012 at 3:21 AM

    So we get a game with 25 lead changes that is decided in the final minute by the play of the league’s premier superstar, and Stern apologizes to the fans for it?!!?

    What an idiot. That was actually a good game. He should apologize to the fans of the Wizards and other perennially awful teams, but leave Pop alone. That was an entertaining game and Stern has the gall to denigrate the effort of the players involved? What a disgraceful and shameless shill for the sponsors Stern has shown himself to be.

    • rtfinch - Nov 30, 2012 at 8:29 AM

      I wanted to like it, but im a Wizards fan. Great points thought haha.

      • savvybynature - Nov 30, 2012 at 1:53 PM

        My apologies to fans of the Wizards and other bad teams, lol.

        I was merely making a point and actually, I’m on your side. I’m from Cincinnati, so the Bengals are no perennial powerhouse believe me. The curse of bad ownership is as bad as it gets as a sports fan.

    • pglive21 - Nov 30, 2012 at 10:07 AM

      I agree that Stern was off base but your comment doesn’t really make sense. Stern issued the statement BEFORE the game had started. You don’t get the benefit of hindsight when assessing that statement. What would you have used as your reasoning if the game had been a blowout for the Heat? Either way I believe it’s Popovich’s decision and no one else’s but you can’t use the quality or closeness of the game as a reason for your argument.

  24. paulwoodsby - Nov 30, 2012 at 3:26 AM

    Stern and the league should have nothing to do with it. While I’m nervous that Pop might do this again, he’s the coach. It’s his right. If he wants to make the Spurs orginization look bad on national TV, there’s no rule against it.

    That said, I’m a lifelong Spurs fanatic and I think Pop made a stupid decision. I’ve got tickets for a back-to-back road game in a few weeks and I’m wondering if he’s going to do this again. I’m thinking of selling my tickets because it’s not worth going just to watch the bench.

    But if there is a punishment to be given, don’t punish the players. They probably had nothing to do with the decision. As competitive as the big three are, they probably weren’t happy about it, but respect Popovich enough not to fight it.

  25. davidly - Nov 30, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    The coach did exactly what a coach is supposed to do. Everything else is pure BS.

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