The San Antonio Spurs will open training camp in less than two weeks, beginning anew the pursuit of a fifth NBA title under the leadership of all-time star Tim Duncan and legendary coach Gregg Popovich. Doing so, however, will require finally and officially moving on from the painful end of last season's pursuit, which saw the Spurs fall to the Miami Heat in a hard-fought seven-game NBA Finals for the ages.
The Spurs, as you surely remember, were mere seconds away from knocking off the defending champions in South Beach in Game 6, with Heat fans heading for the exits in droves before Ray Allen brought Miami back from the brink by sucker-punching all of San Antonio to force overtime. Miami would pull away in the extra session, extending the Finals to Game 7 and opening the door to all manner of second-guessing over the veteran Spurs' late-game mistakes and, more specifically, Popovich's decision to remove Duncan — his best rim protector and rebounder — from the game in the final 20 seconds to be able to more effectively switch Miami's pick-and-rolls and guard the perimeter with the contest in the balance.
A coach with as much experience, belief in his process and commitment to his convictions as Pop doesn't lose sleep over questions of his methodology; as he told Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News, he doesn't regret sitting Duncan because "You do what you do to win the game." But that doesn't mean he's completely over that fateful night in the AmericanAirlines Arena:
“I think about Game 6 every day,” Popovich said. “Without exception. I think about every play. I can see LeBron's first shot, and the rebound, and the second ...”
Then he paused and said, “I've been quite lugubrious.”
“As sad as you can possibly be.”
Evidently, though, Pop's daughter Jill found her father's summertime blues (which we're sure included many repeat listens to "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" and no fewer than three early Cure LPs) quite tiresome — and, as Henry tells it, she let him know so "with a personality she clearly gets from her father."
“OK, Dad, let me get this straight: You won four championships, and you go to a fifth Finals. Other coaches lose all the time. But poor Greggy can't lose because he's special. Can you please get over yourself? End of story.”
He stared at her — then started laughing. Hadn't his daughter told him the same get-over-yourself line he's told so many others?
“That started me on the path to recovery,” he said.
Color me shocked that a young woman raised by Gregg Popovich would have little tolerance for "woe is me" energy-wasting. She sounds like quite the chip off the old block; between Jill's "get over yourself" speech and wife Erin's noted disdain for her husband's treatment of sideline reporters, it seems pretty clear that the primary form of affection shared in the Popovich household falls under the category of "tough love." (We're sure it's totally unconditional, though.)
Jill, of course, has a point. As brutal as the ending of Game 6 was — and the close to Game 7 wasn't much easier, now that I think of it — it still came in the sort of situation that's the envy of every other team in the league, because 28 other squads and their fan bases were watching it all unfold from their homes or from some early vacation destination. Popovich's tenure in San Antonio has been almost unfathomably successful, thanks in large part to the good fortune of having one of the greatest big men of all time fall in his lap in the summer of 1997. (And one of the best point guards of his generation do the same in the summer of 2001. And one of the best guards in the history of international basketball do the same in the fall of 2002. And so on.)
Pop, to his credit, is very aware of that; sometimes, it just takes a swift kick in the pants to remind us how lucky we've been. And if the one delivering it is someone who developed her form by watching your particular brand of grump-fu over the years, well, then, so much the better. Now, it's time for the coach, his (somewhat reconfigured) staff and their players to put the past behind them and focus on the future. Apparently, the entire Popovich family wants some nasty ... or, at the very least, no more whinin'.
Hat-tip to friend of the program Zach Lowe.