Playing Games: The Tao Of Pop

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It was two weeks ago when the Spurs wrapped up their final practice before the start of The Finals and I had just walked out of their training facility on the northwest side of San Antonio when a shiny Mercedes-Benz pulled up along side of me in the parking lot.

The automatic window slid down on the passenger side and a voice yelled out: “Hey, could you answer a question for me?”

When I bent down to look in, Gregg Popovich pulled off his sunglasses and asked several: “Could you please tell me why I’m driving to the airport right now? Could you tell me why I’m making this trip to Miami? Could you tell me why I should even bother wasting my time with a foregone conclusion?”

When I smiled, he kept on going.

“I don’t know what everybody expects out of us, out of me. I mean, I’ve got Timmy Duncan. He’s 37 and a broken down old man. I’ve got another old man with Manu Ginobili, who’s always falling apart. I’ve got this skinny French kid Tony Parker. And then just a bunch of guys.

“They’ve got LeBron James. He’s the greatest player in the league right now, maybe the greatest of all time. And they’ve got Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This is lopsided. This is unfair. This is ridiculous.”

So the Spurs have a 3-2 lead and a chance to clinch the fifth NBA championship in franchise history tonight at American Airlines Arena.

This, of course, is why we play the games and don’t settle them on paper or in the minds of the so-called experts. Otherwise, we’d already be joining in the James’ proclamation from the summer of 2010: “Not one, not two, not three…”

Standing in the Texas swelter that afternoon in the parking lot, the daunting image of the defending champions rose like the shimmering heat off the blacktop, the team that had a league-best 66-16 record and won an incredible 27 consecutive games — second-best streak in NBA history — in the regular season.

But that was all before a 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard stoically accepted the challenge of matching up with the best player on the planet and began to do everything he could to keep him from blowing like the top off a volcano dome. He’s making shots inside and outside. He’s rebounding. He’s passing. All while having primary responsibility on the series’ biggest threat.

The Spurs have used a smothering, suffocating, double- and triple-teaming effort to keep the cork in James’ bottle and have held him to 21.6 ppg in The Finals, down from 29 in the Eastern Conference finals and down from 25.6 ppg for the playoffs. He is shooting just 41.2 percent. James has certainly made his presence felt, but not as an unstoppable force who can take over a game singlehandedly. Rave over all those 3-pointers by the Spurs, if you must. It says here that Leonard is the MVP to date, along with the coach who entrusted him.

That was all before the Spurs had for the most part kept Wade from hitting their beach like a tsunami. Before Danny Green became the reincarnation of “Mr. Clutch,” Jerry West. Before Popovich lit a fire under the struggling Ginobili by inserting him into the starting lineup for Game 5. Before Parker hit his iconic “up-off-the-knees” banker to win Game 1. Before Duncan showed just how much professionalism a 37-year-old big man can still deliver. And before the Spurs have been able to match Miami’s small-ball lineup effectively and thereby kept the nuisance effectiveness of Chris Andersen chained to the bench.

That was all before the Spurs have done what they’ve always done — kept their heads down and focused solely on the task at hand, never doubting themselves and never wavering, even in the six years that it’s taken them to get back to The Finals.

They’re too old, too worn out, too overmatched by the high-flying marquee names of the Heat. Until they’re not.

All I can think of is leaning into the window of Popovich’s car, while wondering why the floor in front of the passenger seat is filled with dozens and dozens of empty plastic water bottles.

“Is this an eco-friendly green machine that you bought from Al Gore or are you just a slob?” I asked him.

Pop finally stopped his rant.

“The truth is I’ve been looking for a recycling center for weeks now, but I can’t find one,” he said. “You know what? That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll just keep driving around town until I find a place to dump all of these bottles instead of going to the airport.

“I mean, really, what’s the point of going to Miami if you’re the San Antonio Spurs? What can happen there?”

He pushed the sunglasses back on his nose, shifted the car into gear, gave a wave and drove away, grinning.

23 Comments

  1. Okay Spurs-time to put your stamp on this final of the finals series & take home the trophy-take it & don’t give it away!
    GO SPURS!
    SPURS ALL THE WAY!!!

  2. Great article-like the up close on Pop & he pulls up to you, that’s awesome. I’ll bet he’s probably a heck of a guy to be around & def one of the top coaches all time. If Doc Rivers does leave our fine Beantown (which i hope he doesn’t) Pops would be the best for my Celtics-would love to see him come here.
    Darn it Spurs-you had the game in hand & in control-S?!?-it’s all good though. Spurs will just have to take the final & i mean final gm 7 in all out Spurs mode. TD & TP will stay in beast mode. ALL SPURS-GO & TAKE IT-GET THIS DONE-BE THE CHAMPS YOU ARE!!!
    SPURS ALL THE WAY!!!
    GO GET IT SPURS!!!

  3. Hoops fan says:

    By taking Duncan out in last minute of regular time game 6, Pop cost the Spurs the whole series! It was 5 points gap in last minute, then spurs lost TWO crucial rebounds. First rebound lost was converted into 3 points shoot by Games which reduced it to 2 points gap. If spurs had that ball 50 seconds from end with 5 points gap they would have won the series.
    Rocky mistake but his mental approach made the spurs so good.
    Shame about that coach!… You are a bit nuts

    • Mjay38 says:

      Ginobli gave the game away. He is erratic. Get him out if there. Spurs should have won. Not a Manu fan. Cost the Spurs the title.

  4. Super Duncan says:

    WHAT?! No foul on Ginobli?!?! The heat don’t need your help! Another game stolen from the Spurs thanks to the refs!!! Stern, you low down dirty shame, fix your refereeing problem! On second thought, don’t bother! I am done with this fraud of a league forever!

    • E-SY says:

      You’re a loser, clear no-call. Stupid descicions made by the coach, poor defense and boxing out down the stretch and that’s it!

  5. Super Duncan says:

    Duncan is playing out of his mind tonight! Like he is 20 again! Go Duncan! Duncan’s best ever half of Finals basketball he has played in his storied career! It’s time for Tim to get his dues. Tonight seems like the right way to seal the deal on his legacy and get another ring. It just feels right. Go Spurs! Take it in 6!

  6. Rogelio says:

    Awesome read!!!

  7. UCantHandleDTruth says:

    Coach Pop is the epitome of respect, humility, efficiency. and confidence which are also manifested in the Spurs players and the franchise as a whole. Meanwhile, the big 3 Pied Pipers of Miami who, in 2010 sold a pipe dream to South Beach fans and beyond with great fanfare are sending them marching towards the river of despair again tonight, just like in 2011.

  8. Michael is on the court tonight. Enough said. We gonna beat them. Be prepared Pop cuz we gonna give you a little bit of Rock and Roll. To ba a rock and not a roll…..

    Let´s go Heat.

    See you after game seven :)

  9. Coach Pop says:

    With props to the Pringle’s expression, once you have Pop, you can’t stop. The Tao of Pop is longstanding in nature. Almost 20 years punching the clock for the Spurs, as a matter of fact. The man is hardened by experience. I could probably coach Miami to the Finals since it’s become a hotspot and destination of choice for free agents far and wide.

  10. penguinmonkey says:

    well i guess this series means popovich wont be coaching the national team as long as lebron is still on it…

  11. sleeplessbull says:

    that really happened?? :)))

  12. GoSpurs says:

    Gregg Popovich for President, 2016

  13. Dragutin says:

    San Antonio is not an old team only the 3 famous ones are old the rest are young highly trained and great shooters as far as I can see.Great team great couch.If Miami didn’t buy it’s way in to the elite i could say the same thing for them but nobody really likes Miami.

  14. Nba fan says:

    Good ol’ Pop. Win for us in game 6. Go spurs!

  15. Neil Young says:

    This is funny because Pop is basically saying what all the media and “experts” have been aroused with since 2010, while ignoring people who actually win on a consistent basis. My guess is that most of the NBA players and coaches would love to see the Spurs win, and show what Leblowj actually is: no better than Wilt chamberlain. Awesome numbers, unprecedented athleticism, but most importantly, no more than 2 rings, if the Heat get another one. Plus, Chamberlain won the MVP 4 times also, but never really won in a dominant fashion. Seems eerily similar…

  16. Loki says:

    Can’t help but shake my head and laugh Everytime Pop talks. One of a kind coach for sure, but that’s what makes him great

  17. Ace says:

    A brilliantly crafted piece of writing Mr Blinebury. Sort of a ‘reverse psychology’ compare/contrast piece, that humorous condescending touch is just gold. You brought Pop to life in this article. Salute!

    The Al Gore reference just hit it out the stadium for me. I wonder how soon after this series, people will jump on the ‘Tim Duncan is the greatest PF of all time’ bandwagon. Up to this point, it seems like he has been left out of every “Greatest players of all time” discussion, while he has escorted the Spurs to 5 NBA Finals in 16 years. That too with the same team.

    Maybe Timmy will finally get his long overdue, dues.

    • Darryl Ramey says:

      Tim Duncan has been considered the best PF of all time for several years now. Even Barkley says “Timmy is number 1, I’m number 2 and Karl Malone is number 3.

      • E-SY says:

        Barkley has no spot in the list… hand that straight over to Kevin Garnett and then turn that top 3 the other way around… now it’s looking good!

  18. LabMonkey says:

    So he’s actually pretty cool outside the building. Cause so far he’s seemed extremely stressed and unwilling to take part in all the post game conferences.