Tony Parker has played for Gregg Popovich for fifteen seasons, which suffice to say gives the man plenty of credible insight into Pop’s coaching tendencies.
Parker predicted on his French radio show that “no one will play” in the two remaining games against the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, referring to the starters.
Although guys like Patty Mills and Boris Diaw are surely relishing in the opportunity for extended playing time against a quality opponent like the Warriors, this prediction should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Spurs.
Popovich has deftly handled the allocation of minutes for his veteran stars during recent regular seasons, always keeping his team fresh heading into the playoffs. With the 2nd seed all but assured, he sees no reason to have key players use unnecessary energy to win a game against a historically great opponent in Golden State. Popovich’s strategy seems to downplay the significance of the Spurs going for an undefeated home season (no team has ever done that), but the only accolade Popovich cares about is a championship.
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Popovich excels not only in the physical grind of the journey to a championship, but also the psychological grind. They call Phil Jackson the “Zen Master,” but Popovich displays his own brand of mental coercion against his opponent.
By sitting his starters against Golden State, he’d deprive the Warriors of any meaningful achievement of vanquishing their main opponent heading into the playoffs. Beating a primary core of Mills, Diaw, David West, and Manu Ginobili is nowhere near the accomplishment of beating Parker, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tim Duncan. A mental edge going into a seemingly inevitable playoff meeting could be the x-factor in a matchup too close to give either team an edge.
Assuming that Parker is right about Popovich’s intentions, it looks like the best decision to ensure the Spurs are ready for a grueling championship chase.