By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO — Dirty or aggressive?
Little Pat Beverley gets into a couple of dust-ups in back-to-back games with Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook and suddenly he’s a combination of Jack the Ripper and Hannibal Lecter in high-tops.
Oh, the horror!
Where are the days when the Bad Boys of Detroit roamed the earth? When John Stockton to Malone was two guys from Utah who used their elbows like meat axes? When the Washington Bullets front line included Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn, aka McFilthy and McNasty? You figure out which was which.
While social media buzzes and the entire state of Oklahoma gets apoplectic at the mere sight of Beverley stepping one foot onto a basketball court, it should be noted that not everyone who isn’t wearing a Rockets jersey doesn’t he’s crossed a line of decorum or fair play.
“I haven’t noticed him being dirty. I’ll say that,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
“When the name Beverley comes up, the first thing that comes to my head is he’s a monster defender and really gets into people and does one helluva job. Maybe he’s done things that I haven’t seen. But I have never thought of him as dirty. I’ve always thought of him as physical and really good at it.”
When asked about the play in Game 2 of the Houston-OKC series last spring when Beverley’s lunge for a steal wound up taking Westbrook out of the playoffs, Popovich shrugged.
“I thought it just happened,” he said. “I don’t think that was purposeful from what I saw.”
According to Pop, it’s intent that makes the difference.
“I just think that probably shows itself in the necessity of the action as far as whether it’s a blatant movement,” he said. “Whether it’s an elbow or a kick or a head-butt or whatever, it might be for no reason whatsoever that doesn’t have anything to do with playing as opposed to physicality. You know, getting up into somebody, touching somebody, blocking out, making hard cuts and making great picks and that sort of thing. That’s an aggressive player. Or somebody who’s always trying to get to the rim. Or somebody who’s always ready to block out and put their body on you. That’s all aggressiveness.
“Dirty is cheap. Cheap stuff that doesn’t really have anything to do with the game. And you can tell the difference pretty easily.”
And before you hurt yourself shouting, the subject of Bruce Bowen did come up. The veteran of eight seasons and three championships with the Spurs was often labeled as dirty for all of the little “tricks” he used on defense.
“Brucie weighed about 83 pounds,” Popovich said. “The guys that guarded him weighed 220 or 200 or something like that. He was a like a gnat. But he was a persistent gnat that drove them crazy with what he could do. But it wasn’t because he was overly physical or anything like that. He had a great understanding of space and had good, quick feet and had a huge desire to be a pain in the neck. He’s still a pain in the neck.”
Perspective matters. Chicago fans didn’t think much of Bad Boy Dennis Rodman’s antics in the paint and under the basket until he switched sides and pulled on a Bulls jersey for those three championships.
Dirty or aggressive?
Tom-AY-to or tom-AH-to?
Bowen or Beverley?
“Hell, yeah,” Popovich said. “I hated Danny Ferry until he was on our team. Bill (Laimbeer) was easy for other fans to hate. But you’d love him on your team. He’d help you win.”
Which is, after all, the point.