AL HAMNIK: Spurs, Popovich give new meaning to the word 'dominate'

2014-06-16T19:30:00Z 2014-07-19T19:47:06Z AL HAMNIK: Spurs, Popovich give new meaning to the word 'dominate'Al Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
June 16, 2014 7:30 pm  • 

There was a conspiracy among some media this NBA season that was neither funny nor professional.

It was referred to as "getting Popped" — asking San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich a stupid question in hopes of eliciting a surly response from the man who uses his deadpan looks and dry humor to illustrate how inane most media inquiries are.

Sunday, his Spurs carved up the defending champion Miami Heat like a side of beef in rolling to their fifth NBA championship since 1999.

This was a night of tributes, not childish hijinks.

The San Antonio Spurs had shown the basketball world that flypaper defense, teamwork and pinpoint passing wins games, not superstars going one-on-one.

"If you want to go anywhere in the playoffs, you've got to have a good defensive team," Popovich told me. "That's the motivation."

The Spurs didn't beat the Miami Heat, they dominated — setting Finals records for field goal percentage (52.8) and margin of victory (14.6) in winning the series 4-1.

Trailing 22-6 early in Game 5, Merrillville grad Popovich went to his energizing bench, tweaked the defense a bit, then watched the Spurs outscore Miami 69-32 over the next 30 minutes.

"I just texted him, offered congratulations," best friend Arlie Pierce said Monday, adding they talk on the phone about a dozen times each season. "He's got a system that certainly works well."

Sunday's highlights on ABC and SportsCenter dealt largely with the Spurs and stories of hard work, sacrifice and redemption after blowing last year's Game 6 in the final seconds and then losing Game 7 against Miami.

Popovich stayed in the background, where he is most comfortable. It's all about the players, he said.

Other than his brief postgame media session, Pop was busy exchanging hugs with his team, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, David Robinson, Bill Russell, Pat Riley and other notables in the audience.

"After last year's loss, Pop needed a week in New York City. He likes New York City and wanted to shake off the demons of last year's Game 6," Pierce recalled.

"The one thing people don't know about him is he's pretty cerebral. He reads and travels a lot."

Later, in the Spurs' champagne-soaked dressing room, Popovich gave big props to owner Peter Holt for allowing he and general manager R.C. Buford to do their jobs.

"Everybody's got a piece of this thing although (MVP) Kawhi (Leonard) thinks he did it all by himself," Popovich said jokingly. "I have never been more proud of a team in all the years I've been coaching. Never have I gotten as much satisfaction.

"I just can't tell you how much it means."

Popovich grew up in Indiana Harbor, had dreamed of playing for the legendary John Baratto at East Chicago Washington and still considers himself a "region guy."

Having completed his 18th season, Pop is a can't-miss Hall of Famer; his 149 playoff wins trail only Phil Jackson (229) and Pat Riley (171); his 23-11 NBA Finals record fourth best among all coaches.

Las Vegas already has the Heat, Thunder and Spurs as the top three favorites to win it all in 2015. Why not a repeat? It could happen.

"I don't think about legacy very often," Popovich said. "I'm not tired. I'd like to continue to coach."

Spurs' personnel won't change much in the offseason and this actually is a younger team than the Heat.

Popovich will again monitor the minutes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, so good health throughout the roster will be key.

Counting playoffs, San Antonio finished up 78-27.

Reminds me of that TV series: The Untouchables.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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