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Popovich explains decision to sit Duncan late in regulation of Game 6

Jun 19, 2013, 2:15 PM EDT

San Antonio Spurs head coach Popovich talks to Duncan during the third quarter of play against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of their NBA Finals basketball series in San Antonio

MIAMI — Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was the recipient of some rare criticism following his team’s collapse in the final moments of regulation in Game 6, and it surrounded his decision to bench Tim Duncan during some key defensive possessions.

The end result, twice with under 30 seconds to play, was the Heat getting offensive rebounds which led to three-point shots that prevented the Spurs from hanging onto a championship-clinching effort in the game’s closing seconds.

The thinking is that with Duncan on the floor, the Spurs would have had a much better opportunity to secure a defensive rebound that could have sealed the victory. But speaking after practice at the American Airlines Arena on Wednesday, Popovich said that there was much more that went into his decision than that.

“It’s not that simple,” Popovich said. “That’s not why they got the threes. We were up five when they got their first three, and so redding and switching makes sense just to take away the three. But on an offensive rebound, it’s one of the toughest things in the NBA, to pick up people. And we had one guy who didn’t pick up. LeBron shot an airball when we were up five. They got the rebound, they got it back to him and he knocked it down.

“And then on the last possession, we were switching at the three‑point line to take away the three, and Boris Diaw has a little more speed than Tim Duncan, so it makes sense to have him out there redding at the three‑point line. Unfortunately we had two guys that went to LeBron and didn’t switch with [Chris Bosh], and he went right to the hole. He’s the guy who got the rebound, so it has nothing to do with Duncan.”

Duncan, as he did after Game 6, said on Wednesday that this is how the Spurs have played in these situations all season long.

“Not new at all,” Duncan said of his late-game benching. “Something we’ve done all year. Obviously we were trying to protect the three‑point line. We had a lot of bodies in there to switch and get up on our shooters. [We had] two bad bounces off a rebound — we actually got the stops on the threes, and [then there were] bad bounces right back out for threes.

“It is what it is,” he added. “Obviously, I want to be in there every minute of the game. That’s just how we’re built. But we’ve done it all year long. We’ve been successful with it. And if it comes down to it again, Pop will make the call again.”

The Spurs have a veteran core of players that trusts Popovich implicitly, but the reality is that the decisions late in Game 6 may have had an unusually adverse effect on his team’s chances. Now, facing the prospect of winning a Game 7 on the road for an NBA title — which hasn’t been done in 35 years — Popovich isn’t too concerned with history, or the long odds that other teams have failed to overcome in the past.

“I don’t really care what it’s been like for anybody else, ever, at any time,” he said. “All I know is we have had a hell of a year, and we have an opportunity to win a championship tomorrow night. That’s all that matters.”

  1. dezglobal - Jun 19, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Everyone knows it was a dumb call.. Keep Duncan in and he would have gotten a rebound.. Leave him out and ray hits a 3… Keep Parker in and he would have had a shot at the end… Keep him out and Manu is left w the shot. I was shocked.

    • justinnoah - Jun 20, 2013 at 2:09 PM

      I tend to agree that Duncan would have got the rebound, but you really don’t know for sure. Who knows.

      What surprised me more was up 10 at the end of 3rd quarter, they didn’t go for the kill to start the 4th quarter, leaving most of their stars on the bench to start the 4th.

  2. azarkhan - Jun 19, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    There will be no finger-pointing by the San Antonio Spurs. They will behave like professionals, close ranks, and be ready to play on Thursday. That is part of what makes them a great team.

    • hehateme2 - Jun 19, 2013 at 2:49 PM

      Too bad the anti-posters don’t share the same professionalism.

  3. 1heatedtoombrayduh - Jun 19, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    They probably DID use this tactic, but because the media and some NBA fans alike never pay attention to the spurs and good they actually are, they didnt know this, so it came as a “shock”

    Im just saying POP is one coach i really wouldnt second guess

  4. fanofevilempire - Jun 19, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    I won’t blame Pop, he knows his players and they trust him, I
    have a problem with Manu and his 8 turnovers being in the game.

    • fredagsedb - Jun 20, 2013 at 8:59 AM

      True. I’m the biggest Ginobili fan you’ll find, but he was second guessing himself, and never really got going. I will though give some of the blame to Pop as I felt he kept him in there for way too long. Neal would have spaced the floor for TP and TD to operate.

  5. mannyfresh209 - Jun 19, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    What’s hilarious, is they put Duncan back in the game after the Allen 3 with 5 seconds left. Even though, it was illegal….

    • fanofevilempire - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      yes, I haven’t heard too much about the one.
      isn’t that like a tech.
      oh boy!

  6. canehouse - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    Pop sneaking Duncan back into the game during the Allen review. That’s a big no-no… usually warrants a Tech. Huge miss by the refs. Essentially OT wouldn’t have been needed.

    • mannyfresh209 - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:45 PM

      Yup. But you know….the refs are still giving the Heat any/all advantages

      • fanofevilempire - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:55 PM

        I think the calls are the same, LeBron and Wade have
        gotten mugged a few times going to the hole.
        In many states you can be charged with a sexual assault.

  7. jhuck92 - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    Frank Vogel did effectively the same thing at the end of game 1 of the IND-MIA series: he sat Roy Hibbert and gave the win to the Heat. These two sketchy decisions still don’t make sense to me, it’s like Vogel and Pop want the Heat to win.

  8. yousuxxors - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    it makes more sense now but if Duncan was in he would of been on bosh. it doesn’t mean he would of got the rebound because bosh barely got both of them.

  9. yousuxxors - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    hindsight is 20/29

    • fanofevilempire - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      yup, who doesn’t say that?

  10. chargerdillon - Jun 19, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    Would Pop have to explain anything about his decisions if his players could hit free throws?

    Would there even be a game 7 IF THE SPURS WERE HITTING THEIR FREE THROWS?

    This aint on the coach

    • fpstratton - Jun 19, 2013 at 4:50 PM

      chargerdillon: I totally agree. Besides, Gregg Popovich knows more about basketball than the ESPN blowhards. They are truly a pathetic and ignorant bunch. I love Magic Johnson, of course, for his achievements in basketball and in life in general, but as a coach, talent evaluator, and commentator, he leaves a lot to be desired. He speaks more like some fan than an objective analyst.

  11. butterfacesareok - Jun 20, 2013 at 2:55 AM

    Where was the offensive foul when lebron got stripped by green and used a elbow to push him off and then cry to refs for a call, or in ot when ginobli got hacked like hell, heat dont deserve this game! Crying about it was illegal to put duncan in, 3 years ago i remember the heat had 6 players in against the bulls in playoffs and werent even called, last i knew you you had to shoot the t to get the point! Love how bosh addressed the heat bandwagoners! Heat fans will be heat fans! Lebrons legacy starts at a freethrow line and thats sad!

  12. masherian - Jun 20, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    There were about 6 things that went wrong in those last 25 seconds before OT:

    Manu misses free throw
    Missed defensive rebound
    No close out on Lebron on 2nd three pointer attempt
    Kawai misses free throw
    Missed defensive rebound #2
    Ray Allen open to receive easy hand off for game tying three

    If at least 1, yes 1, of those 6 did not happen, game would be over.
    Tim Duncan on the bench could have contributed to the 2 missed rebounds out of the 6 things that went wrong, but then again, who knows if he’s even in position to grab them. Heat were expected by the majority to beat Spurs before series started, Heat were expected to beat Spurs in game 6 and 7 even when they were down 3-2 (based on majority of sports analysts predictions). If the Spurs come back after that brutal loss and win game 7, it will mark one of the most resounding achievements accomplished by any team in NBA finals history since the end of the Jordan era!

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