Spurs Down the Thunder to Advance: Popovich Talks About Game Six

It wasn’t easy, but the San Antonio Spurs get their rematch. After falling down early in Saturday night’s Game Six, the Spurs came roaring back and finally put the Oklahoma City Thunder away in overtime 112-107 to advance to another Finals matchup with the Miami Heat. Tim Duncan had 19 points and 15 rebounds, Boris Diaw scored 26 points and Manu Ginobili chipped in 15 points and six rebounds for the Spurs.

San Antonio will play Game 1 on Thursday night at home and and attempt to gain revenge for last year’s heartbreaking loss. San Antonio led Miami 3-2 before losing Game 6 in overtime, then dropping Game 7.

San Antonio took out the Thunder despite All-Star point guard Tony Parker missing the entire second half and overtime with left ankle soreness. Parker had been struggling with the ankle since Game 4 of the series, said Head Coach Gregg Popovich. A transcript of his press conference:

QUESTION: Would you talk about forcing the turnovers for Durant and Westbrook tonight, they had 14 between them and they scored well, but would you talk about your defense on him from the field goal shooting?
POPOVICH: I think in the second half we were really what we call really active. Whatever defense you are in is fine, but you’ve got to be active in that defense, trying to get deflections, crowding lanes, making a play when you feel it, covering for a teammate who makes a play and is out of position possibly. And I thought we did that really well, creating crowds for them, and it helped us in that regard.

QUESTION: In the overtime period, was it the plan to go into Tim, or did that just happen in the course of the game?
POPOVICH: No, it was an odd sort of thing because Manu played point about a year ago, so we had to kind of improvise along the way, so we ran some things for Manu, some things for Boris, and some things for Timmy just to change it up and tried to take advantage of what they were doing defensively. A lot of guys played well. Timmy came through and we went to him. Manu came through, we ran a few plays for him. Boris was fantastic all night long. He was really good at both ends of the court. Cory Joseph came in in Tony’s absence and did a great job in the third quarter for us. That was a big change for them for Cory to be starting in Game 6 without Tony in the second half, and I thought he handled it superbly.

QUESTION: Kawhi Leonard has played a lot. You said he could be a future face of the Spurs’ franchise. What are some of the personality traits, characteristics about him that make him special?
POPOVICH: Well, first of all, his body is pretty amazing. His length, I mean, if you just look at his shoulders, you can see how he’s built, but his length, his hands, he’s got quick enough feet, and he’s learning how to use them. That’s the start. After that he’s got a work ethic that’s second to none. He’s a before and after practice kind of guy. He’s a sponge. I literally have to get him out of the gym. So those two factors are huge. And thirdly, he’s gaining confidence. He’s starting to feel his oats a little bit and is starting to figure out that he’s a hell of a player. He was more of an inside guy in college for those two years, and now we’re making him a perimeter guy, so he’s really just starting to feel what that’s all about. And that’s why I say he’s probably the future of the Spurs, partially because everybody else is older than dirt, and somebody younger has got to take over eventually.

QUESTION: From what you know, will the four days off be enough for Tony Parker’s ankle to be ready for Game 1?
POPOVICH: I have no idea. I don’t know what the deal is. He came to me about eight minutes on the clock and said he couldn’t go. He couldn’t cut. He was limping on it. He couldn’t cut sideways or forward really. He sprained it in Game 4, and he aggravated it in Game 5. We didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I guess it caught up with him, so we talked a lot. I didn’t want him to be a hero because he was 50 percent or less we thought. That’s probably bad for the team if you think about it.
It was a tough decision to try to figure out whether to play him, and if you lose the game and it affects him for Monday night, then you’re going to feel like you made an unwise choice. So I went back and forth, and through the National Anthem and all that time, he tried to get warmer and warmer, and he tried it in the first half, and it wasn’t doing very well. But the 19 minutes he gave us were huge because we couldn’t have gone the whole game without him I don’t think.
He showed a lot of guts to be out there and do what he did. But at halftime I talked to him. He stiffened up a little bit and I just made the call. He wanted to go and I said you’re not. I just told him to sit.

QUESTION: If you were facing elimination tonight, would you maybe try a little harder or have seen if he could have gone a few minutes?
POPOVICH: I don’t deal in maybe. I have enough trouble with reality.

QUESTION: You talked about how good your defense was, but you guys scored 37 in the third quarter. Can you talk about what you did against their defense and then an unrelated second question, you had a little exchange with Durant and Westbrook as they left the game. Can you just talk about that?
POPOVICH: Well, you know, we did score in the third quarter. That’s part of the deal. I thought in the first half we didn’t share the ball. We had six assists at half. But in the third quarter I thought we had a better pace, better ball movement, better body movement and that sort of thing, and Cory was very aggressive, Kawhi Leonard was really tough, and guys played well there in that period.
As far as Russell and Kevin are concerned, they’re class acts. I mean, they know how to lose and they know how to win. I say that in a complimentary way. A lot of people lose and can’t handle it, but they were class acts. Of course, they’re feeling badly. We’ve been where they are before. We’ve all won and lost. But they handled it with class.

QUESTION: What did you see on that final bucket by Tim? It looked like Russell Westbrook made not one, but two, swipes at the ball. What did you see on that play, that last basket by Tim?
POPOVICH: I have no idea. I probably didn’t even see it. I don’t know.

QUESTION: What did you tell your team after this win heading back to your second NBA Finals? I know it’s not about winning the Western Conference, it’s about winning a title, but what did you tell them afterwards?
POPOVICH: I just keep those things?? that’s our stuff. I really don’t like to talk about what I say to my team.

QUESTION: You guys are well known around the league as one of the best ball movement teams in the league. You have guys up there that will give up an open shot and give it to somebody else for a better shot. Where does that start? Is it a system thing, an unselfish things?
POPOVICH: Well, that’s an exaggeration. Every coach in the league is trying to get his guys hit the open man, so that’s not unique with us. I happen to be fortunate enough to have some players that are built that way. Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili are very unselfish, great passers. Timmy is an unselfish player, Kawhi Leonard is learning about it. Tony Parker has been playing for a long time. They are intelligent enough to see the wisdom in that, so they focus on it and try to be consistent with it.
Some teams do it once in a while, but if you can be consistent and do it more than the other guys, it works out for you.

QUESTION: Tim said that four more wins and he said I think we’ll do it this time. What is different about your team than it was a year ago in The Finals?
POPOVICH: You know, I think we’re a little bit deeper off the bench. I think our bench play is better than it was last year. Kawhi Leonard has matured a bit. And I think our guys, they actually grew from the loss last year. I call it fortitude. I think they showed an unbelievable amount of fortitude. If I can compliment my own team humbly, to have that tough loss, especially the Game 6, and not have a pity party, and come back this year and get back to the same position. I think that’s fortitude, and I’m really proud of them and even happier for them.