HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Coach Pop dropped some strong language on his team Saturday night.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is not an easy man to please and he was rather disgusted when reporters gathered to hear his assessment of the game. A game the Spurs won 99-97. Against the East’s sixth-seeded playoff team. And did so without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Upset that his team nearly coughed up a late lead at home, and annoyed by its general lackluster play other than Tim Duncan‘s huge night (31 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists) and Kawhi Leonard‘s second consecutive 20-point game (23 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks), Pop, whose club is 4-4 in its last eight and lost its grip Thursday night on the West’s No. 1 seed, put out this warning flare:
“Other than Timmy, in a lot of ways, it was a pathetic performance. That kind of play isn’t going to get us very far. And it’s not the first time we’ve played like that in the last few weeks. This team needs to get its head around itself and understand what it takes to be there because as a group, they don’t have it right now.”
The bluster was a reminder of one of Pop’s more memorable playoff sound-offs when, following a 100-94 Game 1 loss at Dallas in the 2010 first round series the Spurs would win in six games, he said: “We’ve got to have a few more people step up and play worth a damn. I thought we had a lot of guys that played like dogs.”
Or the line that became an instant YouTube classic from last year’s West finals opener against Oklahoma City when, miked-up during a timeout on the TNT broadcast, Pop sarcastically asked his struggling team if they were having fun yet, and then implored: “I want some nasty!”
Saturday’s rant won’t go viral or become a T-shirt slogan, but he did let his disgust be known to a team that outside of Duncan, in terms of players that actually took the court against the Hawks, exactly one owns a Spurs championship ring: Matt Bonner.
It’s been six years since the Spurs swept LeBron’s James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers. How time flies. And don’t think Pop, who has witnessed this Big Three grow older and suffer a litany of ill-timed injuries, doesn’t know this.
And now time is running out on this regular season, the franchise’s 15th in a row with 50 wins. San Antonio is headed for a 16th consecutive playoff appearance with hopes of a fifth title pinned to the health of Parker and Ginobili.
They don’t want a repeat of 2011 when the eighth-seeded Grizzlies popped the Spurs and a less-than-optimal Ginobili, who injured his right elbow in the regular-season finale, missed Game 1 and then gutted through the rest of the six-game, first-round upset wearing a heavy elbow brace.
Ginobili, who missed his fifth consecutive game Saturday with a hamstring injury, might not be back for the start of the playoffs now just two weeks away. Parker is listed as day-to-day as he nurses multiple injuries. Two nights after he limped off the floor at Oklahoma City with Popovich saying afterward he was “very concerned” that Parker might be dealing with tendinitis in his shins, the team listed their All-Star point guard and top five MVP candidate as out of the Atlanta game with a neck injury.
Getting through the West won’t be easy, starting in the opening round when the Spurs’ most probable opponent will be either the young, but dangerous Houston Rockets, or the unpredictable, but star-laden and Kobe Bryant-driven Los Angeles Lakers.
“Playing like we did right now, no,” Duncan told reporters when asked if his team is playoff-ready. “Playing at the health level we were tonight, no. Luckily, we have a little while to try to get everybody back on the court.”