Notion That Gregg Popovich "Choked" in NBA Finals is Ignorant

By Jeric Griffin
Gregg Popovich Dywane Wade
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you’re a long-time, true fan of the San Antonio Spurs, you don’t understand this team and you never will. Sure, you may be a great armchair quarterback like every other schmuck in America, but you cannot comprehend the philosophy of the Spurs, so don’t try.

The day after the Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, this headline was everywhere:

“Pop Choked”

After the Spurs lost to the Heat in Game 7 — their first series loss ever in the Finals — that same headline surfaced again by those simply sick of the Heat talk. Here’s the bottom line: anyone who even remotely thinks Pop choked at any point in these Finals is ignorant, just like everyone else who thinks they know what makes the Spurs tick.

Many of the “questionable” substitutions that Popovich made late in the final two games of the series were routine for the Spurs; they were the same ones San Antonio made in every similar situation throughout the entire regular and postseason. Those decisions may seem odd to you, but you didn’t coach a team with a 37-year-old superstar to a fifth Finals appearance six seasons after your fourth trip.

Many have criticized Pop for not having Tim Duncan on the floor for Miami’s final possession of regulation in Game 6 when Ray Allen hit the game-tying three-pointer. But had Duncan been on the floor, he would have been standing on the perimeter guarding a shooter at the arc — nowhere near the basket to grab the rebound that set up Allen’s shot. Pop would have made that same move 100 times out of 100 no matter the magnitude of the game.

The same buffoons have said it was a bad move to take Tony Parker out during overtime of Game 6. These folks clearly don’t realize Parker was 6-for-23 in that game and his injured hamstring was acting up. He didn’t want to come out, but he knew that being on the floor unable to penetrate or shoot was hurting his team more than helping. He’s the Spurs’ best player at this point — Pop didn’t just pull him without a good reason.

In Game 7, Pop’s substitutions were again questioned, yet they were identical to the ones he made all season, including the playoffs and Finals. What’s more is these are the exact same types of substitutions he made in the Spurs’ previous Finals appearances, most notably the classic 2005 series, which also went seven games.

Look, just because the Spurs are “old” and “boring” to you doesn’t mean that everything they do that you don’t agree with is a bad decision. Had Kawhi Leonard — the MVP of the Finals for the Spurs — been able to hold on to that last rebound in Game 6, none of this moronic talk would be happening.

The Spurs losing in the Finals is weird for everyone, so that’s the excuse we’ll give to all these folks who think they know what it takes to win a championship. (These are the same folks who think a collaborated Big Three like the Heat’s is required for such a feat — laughable, I know). Before now, the Spurs had never lost back-to-back games in the Finals and had never trailed in their previous four NBA championship series. Pop’s words after Game 7 summed it up perfectly:

“We played hard, but we didn’t play well.”

When asked about his substitutions in the series after Game 7, Pop looked appropriately puzzled, but then remembered that none of these outsiders understand his model organization. When his players were asked about it, they too looked confused as to why anyone would question one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. But again, no one else gets it.

The same folks who are naively criticizing Pop are also part of the vast majority who think he’s a jerk, but that’s not the case at all. If he had really choked at any point, Pop would have been so upset with himself that he would have been absolutely impossible to question during his post game interview.

But he wasn’t.

Pop smiled more in the five minutes directly following Game 7 than he had publicly during the entire season combined. He gave sincere hugs — the long, tight kind that are meaningful — to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra with a smile on his face while saying, “Congratulations, you deserve it,” over and over. A man without Pop’s wisdom, coaching ability and class and who hadn’t just given every ounce of his being to try and win a fifth title wouldn’t have done that. But Pop did everything right in these Finals. His decisions were all justified and his players backed every one of them. And Pop appreciated what had just unfolded before him in likely his last trip to the world’s greatest stage of basketball.

These brief thoughts won’t educate those who ignorantly believe Pop choked during the Finals as a coach because they simply can’t comprehend the way the Spurs work. But that’s what makes this team special. Sure, San Antonio lost this time and it still really hasn’t sunk in for true Spurs fans — the few who actually get it — but this organization is set up for success long into the future, even after Duncan and Pop are gone. Those who don’t understand the Spurs will laugh at that, but they’ll be scarce one it comes to pass.

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