Spurs’ New Challenge Measured In Minutes And Months


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and the Thunder handle the Spurs in San Antonio

At this time of year, the sting of a single loss is nothing to really worry about.

It’s the piling up of injuries that cause the pain and could burn up the Spurs’ season.

Forward Kawhi Leonard broke a finger in Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder and will probably be sidelined for a month. He’ll join in rehab and on the bench with center Tiago Splitter (sprained shoulder) and guard Danny Green (broken finger).

Here’s where the challenge begins. Not merely trying to survive without three regular members of the starting lineup, but trying to keep a lid on the minutes of San Antonio’s Big Three.

Coach Gregg Popovich has long treated the bodies of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as if they were art work from a museum, spending the regular season as much as a curator and caretaker as a coach. More anything else, he protects them.

That’s why when the Spurs traveled to Miami for a nationally televised, much-anticipated date against the Heat, Popovich gave Duncan, Ginobili and Parker the night off, even going so far as to booking them on a Southwest Airlines flight home to San Antonio. For that, the Spurs were fined $250,000 by commissioner David Stern.

Even a chastened Popovich never apologized for his actions to protect the long term health of his franchise trio and said again after the latest blow that doing anything else would be “unwise.”

So after a Friday night stop in Atlanta, the Spurs will travel to Miami on Sunday for another marquee game against the Heat on ABC (1 p.m. ET). It will be their first trip back to South Florida since Games 6 and 7 of The Finals last June, the first chance to exorcise the demons of those painful losses.

But the Spurs and Popovich have never been about one game. Nor have they been scratching and clawing for every ounce out of the regular season, even if it means falling a spot or two in the Western Conference standings. Their belief has long been that playoff seeding is not as important as health. That’s never been more important than now when Duncan is 37, Ginobili is 36 and Parker is 31.

The Thunder proved again in their 111-105 win that they can ride the prolific scoring abilities of Kevin Durant — even in the absence of the injured Russell Westbrook — and rise to the top of the conference standings.

For the Spurs, it was a defeat that dropped them to 3-8 against the other teams currently ranked among the top six in the West. Yet even with another costly loss, there will be no panic, no change in plan. At least for now.

Popovich maintains that he’ll do everything he can to keep playing time right about where it is for Duncan (29.2 mpg) Ginobili (24.6) and Parker (31.6).

While the temptation may be great and the necessity could arrive if the Spurs have to pull themselves out of a sudden long skid, the focus must remain on the distant horizon. Especially if there is to be any hope of eventually landing the franchise’s fifth NBA title.

The truth is that those title hopes will rest as much with Leonard, Splitter and Green. Their legs and lungs that injected some much-needed youth into the lineup last season, enabling the Spurs to make their surprising Finals run. It was Leonard, Splitter and Green who were the leading scorers 10 months ago on the last occasion when the Spurs beat OKC. That trio walked off the floor at the AT&T Center to a thunderous ovation that was supposed to be a peek at the future.

Theirs is a solar system that still revolves around the Big Three, but the youth and speed of the Little Three give the Spurs defense more bite. They also give Popovich so many more ways to go from night to night, quarter to quarter, possession to possession.

“Kawhi’s news is way tougher than the loss,” Ginobili said on Wednesday night. “We have to figure it out.”

So they’ll go small at times and they’ll reach with defensive match-ups that occasionally are unexpected or exotic. But what the Spurs insist they won’t do is burn themselves out in January or February and leave nothing but ashes for April, May and June.

“I won’t overplay Timmy, Manu and Tony just to win games,” Popovich said.

That’s the challenge. No matter how much it hurts.

7 Comments

  1. fourputt says:

    I also am not sure why OKC is a “the #1″ and all that is talked about. I think Miami, certainly Indiana, and perhaps the Spurs and Portland will be better come playoff time. The issue to me is how hard KD plays. He’ll get hurt or at least worn down. Also, in the regular season if ANYONE from ANY TEAM touches KD he’s on the foul line. Against the Spurs he forearm pushed off 10-20 X and they called it once at the last 20 seconds of the game (didn’t matter). IN THE PLAYOFFS defenders can just push back, and they will. They will play KD physically. He’ll get knocked down, over and over. He’ll still score of course, but not as much, not as effectively. OKC won’t survive when that happens. They hit a high percentage of shots against the Spurs in the 1st half and only won by 6 with Green, Splitter and Kawhi out (and Bonner in a mask). Westbrook doesn’t bring much more to the game than Jackson does now…that’s a wash.

  2. And Portland coach Terry Stotts doing excellent job. Good to see some new good coaches after losing Phil jackson, George Karl and couple other great coaches over last few years

  3. Eaham says:

    Coaches like Greg Pop, Doc Rivers, and Jerry sloan are and were great sensible coaches who undestood the game. Now we praise coaches like Eric Spolestra as a top coach and coaches like scott skiles being good, deliberately knwiing they just D**k ride their stars wihtout ever havig to have them develop through coaching. Gift wrapped and delivered. Respect for Vogel though, this guy helped develop the Pacers and PG into a beast.

  4. emevipeelad234 says:

    fernando acevedo, what ?

  5. dustydreamnz says:

    Pop is a living legend. The Spurs have a big bench so they should still be hard to beat. Bellinelli and Ayres to start.

  6. Fernando Acevedo says:

    Well, yes in fact the spurs are going face some important absences from in their roster, but coach popovic is so experienced and so wise that he will not have mayor problems keeping in the top 3 of the western conference and keeping his big three well rested for the playoffs. The key is not his players, is the way he uses them, he can win against better rosters just by playing with inteligence: lockdown defense and sharing the orange on offense, making sure they get open looks in most of the possesions they play. Yesterday match was the perfect example, they lost, but just because kevin durant is a god of basketball, OKC plays horrible basketball only depending on durant’s hability of putting up points no mater how well you defend him, no ball movement, their shooters shot defended every single time, a lot of the time when OKC attacks there is no one for the offensive rebound, etc…if you ask me, I dont understand why OKC is considered a candidate for the ring, yeah, great roster, incredible playes, but 0 inteligence when they play, they are lucky to have the mvp at their side, spurs may not win the championship either due to their aging stars, but they surely have more chances than OKC. Miami won the last ring thanks to luck, and grat roster, but if they start to play better they will be unbeatable, it is just a matter of couching, iffnot how the spurs are allways at the top since 1999? they would have endend long ago if it was not coached by the best, coach Popovich

  7. Sri says:

    Pop treats his players more like a Dad…Love him..!!!