LOS ANGELES – When somebody asked him to explain his reasoning for deliberately fouling Reggie Evans in the fourth quarter of Game 3 on Saturday, a puzzled look crossed the face of Gregg Popovich,
“Because he’s not a good free throw shooter,” said the Spurs’ coach.
When the chuckling in the room finally stopped, Popovich went on.
“Look, I’m not trying to be a wise guy,” he said. “I just don’t know what else to tell you. We weren’t going to foul Chris Paul. I’m sorry to be a wise guy, but I fouled him for a reason. It’s not pretty. Basically, it’s ugly, but it’s part of the game. My job is to win.”
Nobody can argue with the winning part. With four NBA titles already in his pocket, Popovich will push his Spurs for their 18th consecutive win and their second straight series sweep in the 2012 playoffs tonight when they try to close out the Clippers.
While this has certainly been the spring of Tim Duncan’s resurgence, Tony Parker’s blossoming and the continued frantic stylings of Manu Ginobili, Popovich has left nothing to chance. In addition to repeatedly sending an opponent to the foul line who treats free throws as if they were trying to shoot basketballs through the eye of a needle, Popovich was also thinking about his veteran players who have to return to the court today for a back-to-back. By playing Sledge-a-Reggie, Popovich was slowing down the game and giving the likes of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili a chance to ease up on the wear and tear.
It was the kind of bold stroke in which Popovich excels, balancing both the need to close out Saturday’s win to take a 3-0 lead with the need to have his mainstays ready to go today. At that point in the fourth quarter, he didn’t feel safe enough to be able to just send his Big Three to the bench. But he did come up with a method to avoid taking a little extra starch out of Parker’s legs as he tried to guard THE speedy Paul and saved Duncan a few extra bump-and-grinds with Blake Griffin.
It was another demonstration of the little things that went into Popovich winning the second Coach of the Year Award of his career.
“I’m not trying to be a wise guy,” he said.
But it was one more example of wisdom.