The San Antonio Spurs–Golden State Warriors matchup on Thursday night was expected to be an exciting game, and the two sides did not fail to deliver. The back-and-forth affair almost seemed to be a shootout at times, although the Spurs would eventually come out on top 104-102 via a Tiago Splitter tap-in with 2.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
But despite the on-court action providing much excitement, the biggest move of the game was made prior to the tipoff.
That was when Gregg Popovich deemed Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan ineligible to play in the game by not dressing them. Some people will surely decry this as being disrespectful of the NBA regular season and that it should be barred from occurring, but there is no doubting that it is both an effective and useful tactic for the Spurs both in a short- and long-term outlook.
The no. 1 thing that sitting the trio does is that it allows these three elderly players a chance to rest, in turn keeping them healthy for a playoff run. None of these guys can reasonably withstand playing any more than 70 games in a season and can be deemed a risk to be injured any time they hit the floor. This is not a knock on their abilities, just a nod that father time and a relentless style of play is a risky strategy night in and night out in an 82-game schedule.
If anybody knows how to manage older bodies, it is Popovich, as he made sure none of his three stars played more than 69 regular season games last season, subsequently keeping them healthy for a run to Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The players may not enjoy sitting on the sidelines with a suit on, but their bodies are surely going to be grateful later on.
In addition, it is clear that allowing secondary players to feature big minutes against top teams like the Warriors is a positive. Guys like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw all saw heavy minutes as San Antonio made it to the 2013 NBA Finals, and they will surely have to do this to return in 2014.
It was shown that even without their so-called Big 3, the Spurs can win against top teams as everyone on their roster bought into a fundamentally sound and technical brand of basketball. Throughout the game, their unit of second-tier players moved the ball around the floor in a machine-like fashion, showing that ball movement and team play can overwhelm individual talents.
Considering they kept up with the likes of Stephen Curry, David Lee and company, there is no doubting that the Spurs will feel confident that their depth players can step up against any other team in the NBA. This will be especially encouraging come playoff time, as role players can often be the deciding factor.
So while some people will look at Popovich resting his three best players against a top Western Conference foe with disdain, the tactic has some massive benefits. It may not ensure that the team wins come playoff time, but it certainly helps in maintaining health, and serves as a teaching point that the organization can win even without star players.