But come on, this is hilarious and brilliant. Popovich knew exactly what he was doing, and everyone's falling into the trap.
Popovich doesn't get as much dap as a motivator as his chief rival/contemporary, Phil Jackson. Maybe Pop doesn't assign self-help books to his bench players or burn incense in the locker room. But you can't convince me Pop is any less a master personality molder, a man who has built a team of huge talents into the world's most cohesive, humble bunch. Duncan's a good guy at heart, but he didn't come out of the womb deferring big shots and slicing his own pay for the greater good.
Parker has always had a visible ego bubbling just below the surface. Has it ever disrupted San Antonio? Manu has every right to demand more minutes, a starting role. But he has always accepted Pop's strategy bringing him off the bench (and keeping him out of the All-Star Game and All-NBA talk). You think this stuff just happens? Popovich is working magic we'll never comprehend on a daily basis.
As such, I'm not questioning his motivation in granting Denver a tiebreaker and a game in the standings. He knows exactly what he's doing. And he loves to be the villain, he loves to have his team placed as the league's villain. No manner of Steve Luhm finger-shaking will make Pop regret his decision. This is not tanking, this is not an insult to the fans. (The game was on the road.) Fans know there's a real chance stars will be injured any given game. This is one game of 82. Let's not act as if Pop is making a habit of holding out healthy players. It's no different from resting a few stars when playoff seeding has been sealed; in fact, it might be more noble: Popovich knows the seeding ramifications, and he still thinks it was the best route.
Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell had perhaps the best perspective on the whole thing:
What Pop did last night was fill the season with a grand sense of purpose. He did not strip the game of its fundamental characteristics. He underscored its telos by placing his players in subordination to it. This, after all, was merely a mid-season battle in the midst of a long war. The Spurs play to win championships. They don't need to make foolish stands of naive bravado on such unimportant hills.The next time L'Affair Pop comes into play, it will be when the Nuggets and Spurs potentially face off in the second round of the playoffs. Who do you think will feel the jitters -- the team that rolled over in February, or the fellows that went full-bore and still almost lost?
UPDATE: Seriously, no one goes out of their way to see the Spurs.