CHICAGO | You wouldn't want to play chess with San Antonio Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich.
Many of his controversial and risky moves would have you cursing under your breath, then eventually hurling the board and pawns into the air before stalking off.
All that matters to the 1966 Merrillville grad is the entire Spurs team, resting his 'Big 3' of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for the playoffs, and winning a fifth NBA championship.
Public sentiment be damned.
Remember, this guy was fined $250,000.00 by NBA Commissioner David Stern for resting several starters during a much-hyped TV road game against the defending champion Miami Heat weeks ago and igniting a national firestorm.
Was Popovich being unfair to the NBA, the league network (TNT), Miami fans and his own players with that shocking move?
He couldn't care less. It's part of the big picture.
Monday night, Pop was at it again.
He held out point guard Tony Parker, having an MVP season but whose knee had swollen up after Sunday's 29-point, 11-assist win at Brooklyn. He also sat Duncan (knee) and Ginobili (hamstring) again.
Duncan, 36, has missed nine of the last 11 games despite playing like he discovered the Fountain of Youth. Ginobili, 35, missed his fifth consecutive game.
The Spurs continue winning with depth and versatility. Nine players average 20 minutes or more a game.
They came into Chicago 40-12 overall and 22-2 at home, both league bests.
"We're always erring on the conservative side," Pop said of his players' minutes. "Right now, I'm not in good graces with a couple of guys on my team because they want to play.
"I'm making sure they're healed before they come back."
No problem so far. The Spurs were 6-3 without Duncan and 9-3 without Ginobili entering Monday's game.
They had won 12 of their last 13.
A few years ago, Pop changed the Spurs' style from being strictly a defensive-minded, half-court team to stressing the perimeter game because of the aging Duncan and Ginobili.
With the infusion of younger players Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter, the Spurs now run and pop and are among league leaders in 3-point shooting while stressing team play.
Popovich hasn't changed, however, not in 17 seasons as head coach. He remains painfully modest, avoids the spotlight like a tax audit, gets combative with media who don't know the game and is not influenced whatsoever by the mainstream public.
He is considered a potential Hall of Fame coach, though he'd rather talk about politics, fine wine, or Chicago's five-star restaurants.
That humility comes from his military background.
"At any academy, not just Air Force, they tear you down and build you back up again," Pop said. "They don't care if you were the valedictorian, quarterback on the football team or had a 4.0. Everybody around you did something like that.
"You get taken down to the raw bones and built back up the same way, at the same rate, as everybody else. In that process, you learn no one does it on their own. Everything is better if you can do it as a group."
That's his San Antonio Spurs, with the best winning percentage over any 15-year span in NBA history.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org