NEW YORK — “What is this, the fiscal cliff?!” exclaimed Gregg Popovich as he came out of the Spurs’ locker room following the Knicks’ second half surge to a 100-83 victory over San Antonio at the Garden.
The grizzled, veteran coach was in high spirits despite his team’s first loss in eight games, and with good reason.
It’s not as if the Spurs rolled over and died last night. Rather, they simply ran “out of fuel” and ran into a New York team that played inspired and well-executed basketball.
“I sensed that about a week and a half ago,” said Popovich, when asked about his team running out of gas. “But I’m not trying to take anything away from the Knicks … Mike’s got them covering for each other and trusting each other and they did a hell of a job in that regard.”
So with that, Popovich and his well-trained squad left MSG with their focus in one direction: Full-steam ahead toward their Saturday night home matchup with Philadelphia.
Just about a month ago in a similar instance – four games in five nights – Popovich decided to rest his starters in a nationally televised road game against the Miami Heat, which earned him an unprecedented $250,000 fine from Commissioner David Stern.
Popovich clearly got the memo and played his starters in this one, but to no avail.
Despite the loss, the Spurs still played their brand of ball; they simply didn’t knock down enough open shots (28-of-77 overall, 9-of-36 threes) and didn’t have an answer energy-wise for the Knicks’ high-spirited second-half effort to keep this one close.
In situations like this one, many teams revert to 1-on-1 play. San Antonio doesn’t. Even when they lose by 17 points on the road the Spurs still have a way of playing their brand of basketball through the final horn.
“It starts with Pop,” explained Danny Green, who is in his second year with the Spurs. “He’s very disciplined. He knows what he wants and if you’re not gonna run the offense, you’re pretty much gonna be out, not be on the court. Guys are out there and they want to stay on the court, but at the same time he’s got us playing the way we should be playing and disciplined enough to make the right plays, regardless of the score.
“We’re trying to get better.”
Everything San Antonio does, it seems, is part of a team-wide effort to get better. Even in losses, from the first man to the last man, the Spurs run their offense to death and play basketball how their coach believes it’s supposed to be played.