SAN ANTONIO -- In theory, the off day is a wonderful concept. Players need a day to recover physically and work on things at practice. Writers could use the extra time to catch up on all the angles they missed in the postgame frenzy. Throw an extra off day into the equation and that's when things get dicey. But you never know what you may learn, like this little gem: Gregg Popovich hates the three-point shot.
When you watch the Spurs, you immediately think of their well-designed sets, proper spacing and high efficiency. When you watch them closely, you also note that his players are unafraid to let threes fly in transition. Then you think that Popovich is some kind of tactical genius for playing this way and that he must love the three and what it's done for him and his team. And you're wrong.
"I hate it," Popovich said. "To me it's not basketball but you got to use it. If you don't use it, you're in big trouble. But you sort of feel like it's cheating. You know, like two points, that's what you get when you make a basket. Now you get three, so you got to deal with it. I don't think I don't think there's anybody who is not dealing with it."
This seemed odd, so I asked Danny Green for confirmation.
"Yeah, he does," Green said. "Pop's a pretty smart guy. Even though he hates it, he knows it's a thing you need to be successful in this league. He looks at statistics and he knows what successful and not successful teams do well. He doesn't like it but he respects it and knows it's a key thing for us in order to win games."
Few teams have made better use of the 3-point shot than the Spurs. They are credited with popularizing the use of the corner three, now a staple in every smart offense, and they made a healthy 39 percent of their shots from behind the arc this season, which led the league.
From Mario Elie to Bruce Bowen and now Green and Marco Belinelli, the Spurs have always made sure to fill out their roster with high-accuracy marksmen on the wing. Their shooting has opened up the floor for Tim Duncan to work inside and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to create off the dribble.
This relatively basic philosophy has helped keep the Spurs' offense functioning at a high level and also aided their transformation from a defensive juggernaut into one of the league's top offenses. That shift has helped keep the Spurs in contention and prolonged their run.
"We're not as good as we used to be defensively," Popovich said. "So, if that's going to diminish, you need to do something at the other end of the floor to make up for it. We changed our pace, and the way we approach things at the other end of the floor to make up for what we're going to lose defensively."
That right there is the essence of what makes the Spurs the Spurs. For all his old-school mannerisms, Popovich is actually quite adaptable.
"We've been playing together for the last three or four years, high pace, move the ball, try to score more points," Parker said. "As the league evolved and a lot of teams score a lot of points, we had to change a little bit of our game. And before we were a halfcourt team, pass it to Timmy. But that's the beauty of coach Pop and Timmy and everybody in this organization, we try to adapt. And I think our game has arrived to a point where we can score but we can play defense. We can play any kind of style."
The Collected Wisdom of Chris Bosh
The best quote, by far, in this series is Chris Bosh. At some point he decided that he would answer every question honestly and without fear, a refreshing antidote to the usual canned responses.
"You have to get used to not caring," Bosh said. "I stopped caring a long time ago. It's one of those situations where you can't please everybody. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't, so you might as well make yourself happy. Make your family happy. As long as everyone's happy in my corner, I'm good."
'Old man game' is real
The 2014 NBA Finals give us the opportunity to watch three future Hall of Famers show us what having an "old man game" is truly all about.
"I know everybody's going to make the comparisons and who's better and who would have won what and LJ or MJ, we know that's coming. We keep our head down and work right now.
"It doesn't light a fire, being here is fire enough. It's tough chasing ghosts. We have enough challenges on our plate right now. We're trying to beat a very good team and that requires all our attention. We win this series, we can sit back and have a beer when we're older and we can tell you why we're better and who we're better than and all that stuff. Like old guys do now."
On shooting threes:
"Just trying to go for efficiency and points per possession and all that crazy stuff. For the most part I try to use it better. People tell me you're taking long 2s anyway, just take a step back and let it go. I said, alright. That adds another dimension. It's another thing that makes it tough because of that extra point."
On Manu Ginobili:
"You don't know where he's going to pass it. He'll do a right hand pass, a left hand pass, between your legs, behind your back, he'll make any pass. This is the Finals. I'm thinking guys will be more fundamental, he just does what he does. And he makes the right reads every time."
"We know each other's plays. I can practice with them right now and run every play."
Boris Diaw, Game Changer?
Boris Diaw played 31 minutes in Game 1. He took five shots, missed four of them but did grab 10 rebounds to go with six assists. The biggest number for Diaw was +30, in that the Spurs were 30 points better with him on the court than off.
Plus/minus is notoriously fluky in a small sample, but Diaw's impact was felt all over the court in the opener. Because of his size, he can help the Spurs play big or small. Because of his passing ability, he can keep the offense moving even when his shot isn't falling.
"He's a very versatile, versatile player," Popovich said. "Some players have a feel for the game that is better than others. And he's one of those. He can pass the basketball. He sees the floor in a spatial relationship sort of way. He knows where people are. He knows where the ball should go. He anticipates. On defense, although he's carrying around a little bit of luggage, he does his work early and positions himself pretty well. He allows us to play big and play small at the same time, is what it amounts to."
The last few days have been a Boris lovefest, a rather odd turn of events for a player who has been maligned pretty much everywhere. Not in San Antonio, where the Spurs have made an art form out of maximizing their players' talents and not worrying so much about their weaknesses. Not everyone is on board.
"This series is not going to be defined by the LeBron versus Diaw matchup," LeBron James said. "It's the Spurs versus the Heat. Whatever team makes the correct matchup, the adjustments from game to game will win the series."
The LeBron Non-update Update
James practiced on Saturday, or at least he took the court and put up some shots before the press was kicked out of the gym. He's feeling better, he had treatment and everyone is expecting him to be ready for Game 2.
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The Spurs' impressive Game 1 victory was overshadowed by a faulty cooling system that forced LeBron James out of the game during crunch time. Let's all try to react rationally.
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An ESPN reporter asked him to address the comments he made to ESPN that he's the "easiest target in sports," which he did by shouting out a different ESPN reporter. The Finals are so very meta.
"Because I've been in front of the camera and the camera has been in front of me since I was 15 years old," James said. "You guys have seen everything from me, from being an adolescent kid just playing the game of basketball because he loves it as a hobby, to now playing as a professional, to succeeding, going to the top, to falling off the mountain, to going up to the top again. You guys have seen everything that my life has had to offer since I was a 15‑year‑old kid. I don't know if Brian Windhorst is in here somewhere, is he? He could tell you my life story almost better than my mother could."
Then Dwyane Wade snuck in the back and asked if he was ready to practice and James did a version of the Allen Iverson "Practice?" rant and everyone laughed. Game 2 is hours away. Thank god.