Greg Popovich sent a bold message to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli weren’t on the San Antonio Spurs’ bench in a 91-84 loss to the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. They weren’t in the building, or even in the city. No, following Sunday’s win over the Jazz, Popovich didn’t see fit to bring his three stars to Utah.
In doing so, he made things abundantly clear: He could care less about the top seed in the Western Conference, which the Spurs and OKC are locked into battle for. All Popovich cares about is the health and fresh legs of his three best players.
He didn’t have that last season, which led to San Antonio’s shocking first round defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies. Popovich is determined to not make the same mistake this time around.
“I think it’s obvious what I’m doing,” Popovich said.
Thing is, these San Antonio Spurs are deeper, younger and more athletic than last season. Drafting Kawhi Leonard has turned out to be a typical brilliant Spurs selection. He has added rebounding and toughness as the starting small forward.
The emergence of people like Danny Green, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter have supplied the depth. As a result, unlike last season, San Antonio hasn’t been overly reliant on its Big Three.
“We have 13 guys in this locker room and coach plays them all,” Matt Bonner said. “That’s something that you have to have in a lockout season. We have a lot of depth, and our approach is to go out and execute, leave it on the floor and give it our best effort every night.”
Amazingly, the Spurs had every chance to beat the Jazz on Monday night, even short-handed. With Bonner making shots, and Neal and Splitter providing a presence off the bench, San Antonio led with three minutes remaining.
But Stephen Jackson kept the Jazz in it by shooting 2 for 13 from the field. And given an opening, Devin Harris bailed the Jazz out by going crazy in the fourth quarter with his 3-point shooting.
San Antonio went 7 for 24 from beyond the arc. That, and a lack of rebounding, allowed Utah to rally and win.
“The big difference in the game, like with a lot of NBA games down the stretch, is making shots,” Popovich said. “Harris came down and knocked down two in transition in a row, and on the other end we couldn’t throw it in the ocean.”