San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will be in the Hall of Fame one day, but following his team's 103-100 Game 6 loss in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, and some questionable decision-making down the stretch, he may get a fair share of criticism over the next two days.
Manu Ginobili found himself in the rare position of needing to defend his head coach for sitting Tim Duncan at the end of regulation and Tony Parker at the end of overtime, and did so vehemently as soon as he was asked about the late-game substitutions.
"We were so close to winning it," Manu Ginobili said in the media room following the game. "It's one of the many things I'll be thinking [Tuesday night]. We've got a great coaching staff, great coach. If he did those subs, I'm very sure he thought about it and had many great reasons to do it. He wanted size on the defensive end."
The criticism will keep coming over the next 48 hours, but in Popovich's defense, San Antonio turned the ball over late, made costly defensive errors on rotations and failed to match the Heat's energy at the end of the game. It wasn't his fault alone. Coaches get a lot of blame when things go wrong, and it's easy to make the right decisions with the ability of hindsight.
At some point, the players have to take responsibility to close the game out.
The numbers tell more of the story. San Antonio shot a dismal 35 percent in the fourth quarter while Tim Duncan, who single-handedly dissected the Heat defense through three quarters, didn't register a field goal in the final 12 minutes. The Spurs went just 1-of-6 from the three-point line and appeared to run out of steam as the quarter wore on. The Heat shot 65 percent from the field and scored 14 points to the Spurs' 12 in the paint after the San Antonio dominated the game in that area in the first half, 32-12
The Spurs had all of the momentum and missed 1-of-2 free throws twice in the final minute of the game to give the Heat life and open the door for an improbable comeback.
But Pop will get all of the criticism. That's how life as an NBA head coach goes sometimes. But for this coach in this situation, it's unprecedented. Going into the Game 6, San Antonio was 14-2 in elimination games. The letdown from losing the way they did is likely immeasurable.
How does a coach possibly get his team ready for a Game 7 after having the championship slip from their grasp?
"I get 'em on the bus. It arrives at the ramp over here. We get off the bus. We go on the court and we play. That's how we get ready," Popovich said poignantly when asked the same question.
"I'm devastated," Ginobili added. "There's no Game 8. We're gonna have to play our best game. Shoot better, less turnovers in my case. There's no secret recipe for bouncing back."
As bad as things look for the Spurs after a devastating loss, they'll still have a chance at redemption in a Game 7. How they respond is anyone's guess. But as good as the Game 6 was, there's nothing like a Game 7.
"It was by far the best game that I've ever been a part of," LeBron James said.
(Quotes via NBA Live Streaming)