Spurs coach faces Warriors dilemma
Gregg Popovich has the NBA by the throat this week.
He can either let his Spurs breathe and stretch their legs out in games against the Warriors, or he can choke out all the fun of what remains of the regular season by sitting out his main guys. The decision is entirely his.
Selfishly, we all want to see the Western Conference’s top heavyweights battle late Thursday and on Sunday evening, but there’s no way Popovich will allow that to happen. He’s already showed his hand against Golden State, pulling off an 87-79 win on March 19 in a dominant defensive performance where he threw caution to the wind and put his theories on how to contain Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on full display. The victory allowed San Antonio to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can defeat the Warriors if the teams were to meet in a series, something they haven’t done since the 2013 West semifinals, a series won 4-2 by the Spurs.
Perfect run at home worth fighting for
What we can hope for is one more clash where both teams put it all out there. From San Antonio’s standpoint, they do have something to play for on April 10 since that will be their 40th home game of the season. The Spurs have opened 39-0 at the AT&T Center, setting a single-season record, which means that wins over the Warriors and on April 12 over Oklahoma City would complete the first perfect season at home in NBA history. Of course, Popovich has already been asked about this and intimated that it means as much to him as a “cup of coffee.”
Seriously? There’s no question that the Spurs way is basically beyond reproach given the volume of success that the franchise has attained. Team goals have always been placed over individual ones, and the pursuit of a championship trumps all. While that makes sense, a perfect record at home is a team honor. In fact, it can be viewed as a reward for perhaps the best fan base in the NBA, a loyal group that has supported the Spurs religiously with a devotion few other teams enjoy. If you’ve ever been to San Antonio, that’s crystal clear. Billboards and signs remind you whose town it is at all times. Since the NFL never did make it down to the Alamodome, it’s a one-team city. The fact the team has been so remarkably effective is gravy. They would support it even if the product was mediocre.
Of course, the product is far from that, which is why Popovich shouldn’t overlook the historical aspect of what his team is on the verge of accomplishing. Because of the start the Warriors surged out to, San Antonio’s success has been largely overshadowed. The Spurs have already set a franchise-record for victories after opening 64-12. Considering all the resting Pop has done of starters, not to mention getting new franchise pillar LaMarcus Aldridge up to speed, that’s remarkable. Because the Warriors are still on the chase of the all-time wins record, San Antonio’s success has basically been ignored. Now the Spurs stand in theiway -- twice -- as Golden State needs a perfect 4-0 run to finish an NBA-record 73-9.
It’s a strange dynamic that Popovich and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr are such good friends, with the latter having played in San Antonio, winning titles in 1999 and 2003. Although Popovich has divulged that no team has kept him up trying to find ways to stop them the way Golden State has, you can take the veteran coach at his word that he wishes them no ill will. In that sense, 73 victories mean nothing to him. There’s no motivation to prevent Kerr’s Warriors from reaching that milestone. It means nothing to him.
Golden State’s own pursuit of a perfect record at home ended at the hands of Boston on Saturday night and was compounded by a second loss on Tuesday against Minnesota, so it no longer matters that the Spurs are likely to rest everyone of consequence in Oakland. Why give the Warriors any motivation, especially at home, where they already crushed the Spurs 120-90 on Jan. 25? Popovich is notorious for spoiling nationally televised games with his maintenance plans, having just done it against Oklahoma City on March 26. The Spurs lost that game 111-92 and haven’t faltered since, which means they’ve lost just three times since the All-Star break when at full strength, winning 19 times. This week’s contests should feature more rest for regulars since the Spurs will play at Utah, Golden State and Denver, places that each have unique pitfalls. The Warriors and Nuggets game come on a back-to-back, so there’s no chance San Antonio doesn’t field a depleted roster.
That brings us to April 10. The Warriors will come to town, still chasing history. The Spurs will play their 40th home game, still chasing history. Hopefully, Popovich doesn’t put on his Grinch cap, preventing one last legitimate preview of a likely Western Conference finals that is sure to be epic.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA