Game Notes: Spurs at Knicks
The Gregg Popovich Experience.
by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson)
Let’s face it — you don’t really want to read yet another batch of game notes. Not in late December. Not with the Spurs on the second night of a horrid road back-to-back. And definitely not in that no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year’s. I mean hey, you want some basics? Fine by me. The Spurs won, 95-88. There. Oh yes, and Nate Robinson sat out his 12th straight game, Eddy Curry sat out his fifth, and Darko Milicic may have spent the entire game selling popcorn in the 400 level. He sure as heck wasn’t on the bench. If you want actual detail as to who did what, you can read a wonderful gamer here.
No, what I’m going to give you is something different. There’s just one reason to go see the Spurs as a member of the media, and that’s the ability to listen in — and participate, if you dare — in Gregg Popovich’s pre- and post-game media sessions. Sure, it’s fun to watch Tony Parker’s pell-mell drives, Manu Ginobili’s languid jumpers (somehow, he manages to be languid and frenetic at the same time) and of course Tim Duncan’s continuing march towards the Hall of Fame. But you can see great basketball nearly every night. There are only two Pop sessions at the Garden per year, and whether you have something to ask or not, they’re not to be missed. It’s a back-and-forth, to be sure, but sometimes it can be a bit like a junior tennis player serving to Andre Agassi in his bewigged prime, complete with more pauses than Nate’s Twitter feed. Here’s the complete transcript of Pop’s pre-game session. Press in italics:
“How are you doing, gentlemen?”
Happy holidays…general murmuring.
Camera guys ask him to close door behind him, leading to laundry facilities. He obliges.
“Be careful, there’s a trap door in there.”
“It’s OK, if I fall through it doesn’t matter. As long as Duncan doesn’t go through…”
“For those of us who don’t see you on a regular basis, can you talk about the team a little bit – early on maybe a little inconsistent, but it seems like it’s coming together now.”
“Well thanks, but you exaggerate. We’ve been inconsistent up to this point, really. We’ve I think played about four games for 48 minutes this year where we were really satisfied with the performance. Mostly at the defensive end, we’re not what we’ve been in the past at that end of the court and have a long way to go in that regard. And offensively with three new starters, it’s taken more time than we thought to get them feeling comfortable with each other. We’re still in a process, hoping to get to a point where we can compete.”
“How long did you think it would take?”
“Oh, I have no idea. I don’t even try to figure that out. When it happens, it happens. But it’s usually—we’ve usually been a second-half team for the most part, a second-half of the season team, for the most part, so that’s not different from the past. But at this point, I don’t see as much recognition of the system as I like to see, and we’ve had some slow starts by some of our returning players. So we have a few things that have to come together.”
“What’s missing on the defensive end that you’ve noticed?”
“Well, I mean…lots of things. I can’t do a clinic for ya, here.”
“Are there a couple of key ones that stand out?”
“Yeah, people are scoring too much.”
“What do you make of the schedule that you have right now, basically playing two games in 24 hours?”
“Well, it makes a lot of sense. I think any team that can get in the night before a back-to-back and go to bed at 4, 4:30 in the morning and play at 6 the next day, I think that’s a good thing. I think more of us should do that. It really puts a good product out on the floor.”
“Was that what you were looking for?”
“You’re not the only coach who has kind of said this this year. Has anyone ever talked to the league about that? Adelman had a lot of complaints about the schedule they have this month, a bunch of back-to-backs.”
“I know it’s gotta be difficult. I mean, how many iterations are there with 30 teams and all these games? It’s gotta be unbelievably difficult. But—I don’t use ‘em because I’m not smart enough—but I know there’s these things called computers that figure all that stuff out. And I would think they could do that, some way or another. So it must be something I don’t understand. Trips like this, they just don’t make any sense.”
“But everybody does ‘em, it’s not like it’s unfair. I think it happens to everybody. I assume it does. I wanna believe it does.”
“A lot was made this year, about that you guys you took on all the extra money, went over the luxury tax level, [“We certainly did.”] which you officially hadn’t done. Ever wonder where the money came from, why you could do it this year?
“Peter Holt’s pockets.” [laughter] “It’s Peter’s money.”
“But he hasn’t done it before. Obviously people lost money last year, it wasn’t time to take on more money.”
“Yeah, the landscape has changed. We did it as long as we could, and we were great at it. I’ll say we were great at it, trying to stay under the cap as we did and still compete for championships. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit on the financial and management side, so… It got to the point where teams got so good and had so many good players with so many contracts, to stay in the league, to stay in the hunt, it’s a simple question: do you want to compete for a championship? If you want to, you gotta spend the money. And so we did it this year. We made the trade—that’s basically what put us over the cap, trading for Richard [Jefferson].”
“People are saying if even the Spurs have given into that this year, it’s over for small-market teams. You guys were the ones who were the shining light for all the little guys, really.”
“We held out as long as we could.”
“So it can’t be done anymore?”
“I think it would be very difficult. Unless the whole scheme of things, systemically, changes.”
“Wanna explain how that would happen?”
“Talk to Obama. If he can’t figure it out, I can’t figure it out.”
“Think he’s got enough on his plate already.”
“It’s a ridiculous plate, that’s for sure. It’s not even what he ordered, either.”
“And he can’t send it back.”
“Do you think the move to the bench has been beneficial to McDyess?”
“Well, we just did it two games ago, I don’t know. My personal belief is I think he feels more comfortable there. He may agree or disagree.”