San Antonio Spurs All-Time Lists

Spurs: Ranking Popovich's most brilliant playoff coaching moves

Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages
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San Antonio Spurs
Kendrick Perkins, Matt Bonner / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

3. Starting Matt Bonner against OKC in the 2014 West Conference Finals

In the 2014 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs held a 2-0 lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder before the Thunder clawed their way back into the series. They won back-to-back games at home following Serge Ibaka's return from injury and were on the verge of a second backdoor sweep of the Spurs in three years.

Not on Popovich's watch.

He wisely countered Ibaka's return by shaking up the starting lineup and swapping out center Tiago Splitter for Matt Bonner. The results changed the outcome of the series. With Tim Duncan and Splitter playing together, Ibaka was always a quick rotation away because neither could space the floor. That made it incredibly difficult for any Spur to score at the rim when he was in the game.

However, with Bonner, who wasn't even a rotation player at the time, Ibaka was forced away from the basket. That move unlocked the Spurs' offense and offset much of his defensive impact. In fact, Leonard's iconic dunk on Ibaka was a result of him being a step late after leaving Bonner to contest.

Bonner being a career 41% 3-point shooter definitely made Ibaka think twice about leaving him open, and the Spurs took advantage. They parked the Red Rocket in the corner and repeatedly ran spread pick and roll, allowing them to generate high percentage shots. The Spurs ultimately won the series in six games, with Pop's decision to start Bonner being a key to victory.

San Antonio Spurs
Stephen Curry, Danny Green / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

2. Defensive adjustments against Golden State in the 2013 West Semifinals

With the Spurs struggling to contain then-rising stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the 2013 West Semifinals, Popovich made several key defensive adjustments. He placed Tony Parker on Harrison Barnes, Leonard was assigned Thompson, and Danny Green was tasked with guarding Curry.

The results were impressive: Green proved effective in slowing Curry down while Leonard limited Thompson to just 45 points over the final four games. That put cold water on the Warriors' red hot offense and helped the Spurs win the series in six games.

Had Popovich not made those adjustments, the Warriors might've gone to the NBA Finals that year instead of the Spurs. If that had happened, the Spurs might've never made it back to the NBA Finals and the Warriors' dominance might've started a couple of years earlier. Huge move.

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