Skip to content

Gregg Popovich explains benching all five starters after sluggish start to Game 3 against the Grizzlies

May 26, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

Spurs head coach Popovich directs his team against the Grizzlies during the fourth quarter in Game 3 of their NBA Western Conference final playoff basketball series in Memphis

The Spurs ended up with a compelling overtime victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, but it certainly didn’t start out as a game that would end in San Antonio’s favor.

Whether due to the extended layoff between games or because of the desperate nature of the Grizzlies, the Spurs were knocked on their heels from the opening tip, and were overwhelmed by a Memphis team that was clearly the aggressor.

As the Grizzlies forced seven turnovers in the game’s first seven minutes on the way to jumping out to a quick 11-point lead, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich didn’t at all like what he was seeing. But while most coaches would simply call time outs to try to right the ship while being fearful of messing with their regular rotations, Popovich felt that a more drastic measure was required in order to shake his team up.

After 7:07 had gone by in the first quarter and with his team trailing 16-5, Popovich subbed out all five of his starters at once. It was a bold move that didn’t pay immediate dividends; the Grizzlies extended their lead to as many as 18 points before the first quarter was through. But it got his team’s attention, and the Spurs began to chip away at the large deficit with the starters back in midway through the second quarter.

It would have been seen as a panic move by most, but Popovich is among the most tenured and respected coaches in the game, as well as someone whom his players completely trust. He is a member of a very small group of coaches who could get away with something like this without losing his players, and he explained the rationale for his unorthodox decision afterward.

“Well, to start the game, you all saw it; I don’t remember the stats,” Popovich said. “We had maybe eight turnovers in the first quarter. It looked like those five guys had been asleep since Tuesday, and so we thought we might as well get five different bodies out there and at least start to compete and not be as sloppy as that group looked. For whatever reason, I have no clue, but it was one of the worst starts I’ve ever seen. We just made the change and hoped we could sustain the hit, get the guys back in, and it was a real test of their character to continue to pound and pound and pound.  That’s what happened.

“Really proud of their ‑‑ not really their effort so much but their ability to mentally hang in and stick with each other and continue to play.”

Popovich knows his guys, and the move worked to perfection. San Antonio had cut the lead that was once 18 points down to just four by halftime, and the starters regained their focus the rest of the way.

Latest Posts
  1. DeMar DeRozan leads Team USA in scoring, could well stick with team (VIDEO)

    Aug 21, 2014, 1:33 AM EDT

    Dominican Republic v United States Getty Images

    He also was a scoring machine at the showcase in Las Vegas.

  2. Coach K: No Team USA cuts before Friday’s game

    Aug 20, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT

    Team USA Practice Session Getty Images

    16 players will practice and be available for Friday’s game against Puerto Rico, but the roster needs to be trimmed to 12 in advance of the FIBA World Cup.

  3. Wednesday And-1 links: Youths who entered Ray Allen’s home charged with trespassing

    Aug 20, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

    2014 NBA Finals - Practice Day And Media Availability Getty Images

    Including a link to the trailers of the STARZ show LeBron James is producing loosely based on his life

  4. Derrick Rose held out of USA exhibition vs. Dominican Republic, technically ‘coach’s decision’

    Aug 20, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT

    Derrick Rose Derrick Rose

    Rose hasn’t practiced since playing 24 minutes in Saturday’s win over Brazil.

  5. Warriors’ Nemanja Nedovic to miss FIBA World Cup

    Aug 20, 2014, 6:19 PM EDT

    Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Getty Images

    Nedovic had hoped to play for Serbia, but couldn’t get medical clearance.

  6. Kevin Durant: Stephen Curry ‘is terrible’ in NBA2K

    Aug 20, 2014, 5:07 PM EDT

    Stephen Curry Stephen Curry

    Video game Curry doesn’t come close to shooting as well as the real life version.

  7. Report: Suns discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe

    Aug 20, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT

    Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns Getty Images

    If Bledsoe decides to play for the qualifying offer, he’ll almost certainly bolt as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

  8. Nene says playing Anthony Davis is like fighting Dhalsim from Street Fighter

    Aug 20, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT

    dhalsim_street_fighter

    Strangest comparison ever. And pretty accurate.

  9. Report: Heat trying to add shooting guard, another big but for veteran minimum

    Aug 20, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT

    Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade AP

    Miami could use the depth, but at this point the pickings are slim.

  10. Report: Sixers may look to trade for Amar’e Stoudemire at this season’s deadline

    Aug 20, 2014, 11:17 AM EDT

    New York Knicks  v Philadelphia 76ers Getty Images

    Move would be purely financial for Philadelphia, but if Stoudemire is contributing at that time, Knicks may pass.

  11. Stephen Curry says he, Klay Thompson would be best NBA Jam duo in NBA

    Aug 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors Getty Images

    Best NBA Jam duo on a current team? Give me Durant and Westbrook.

  12. Lakers top 10 plays of the 2013-14 season (VIDEO)

    Aug 19, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT

    New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

    Highlights only serve as a reminder of just how bad things were in Los Angeles.

Featured video

Will LeBron get booed Christmas Day in Miami?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (3175)
  2. D. Cousins (2378)
  3. L. James (2253)
  4. P. George (2222)
  5. S. Marion (2096)
  1. R. Allen (2091)
  2. K. Bryant (2016)
  3. A. Davis (2003)
  4. C. Anthony (1829)
  5. K. Love (1610)