When Kawhi Leonard went down in Game 5, the NBA community thought the San Antonio Spurs were done in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets. LaMarcus Aldridge was playing with the dexterity and passion of a zombie, Danny Green couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and veteran guard Tony Parker was hurt. The two Texas teams had traded blowouts aside from San Antonio’s overtime win in Game 5 that finished 110-107 with a clutch block from Manu Ginobili, but without Kawhi for Game 6, most people thought the series would go seven games. San Antonio ended up winning 114-75, which means they won by 39 against the team with an MVP favorite while missing their own best player.
The main thing that the Spurs do well is win. From top to bottom, the philosophy of each player being able to listen to and follow coach Gregg Popovich’s coaching has paid dividends since 1996, as shown by the five titles he’s won in San Antonio. Somehow, without their star two-way player, Pop’s coaching got the job done to beat the Rockets and have the series finish 4-2. Now, the Spurs will face off against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
LaMarcus Aldridge was having a horrendous series, until he decided to drop 34 points on 16/26 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds. He only got to the free throw line twice, but with those numbers, the Spurs fanbase won’t be too concerned. Now that the guy who the Spurs signed because they expected him to form a dynamic duo with Kawhi Leonard is playing like the star that Pop thought he would be, the Spurs actually might have a fighting chance against the super team that is the Golden State Warriors.
Additionally, Jonathan Simmons slid into the starting lineup in Game 6 to drop 18 points while shooting an efficient 8/12 from the floor. Furthermore, the point guard combination of Patty Mills and rookie Dejounte Murray did more than enough to cover for the absence of Tony Parker. Mills had 14 points and seven assists with just one turnover, and Murray dropped 11 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing five assists, also with just one turnover.
Murray fell to the end of the first round in the 2016 NBA Draft because teams were not sure if he could make an immediate impact, but given the fact that he had a double-double off the bench in the playoffs, the teams that picked ahead of San Antonio will probably regret passing on Murray. The fact that the rookie out of the University of Washington was ready to contribute effectively in the playoffs also shows how great a coach Gregg Popovich is.
Pop decided to play 13 players in the game, which is a ton, but also shows how he got everyone to contribute in the face of adversity. In past years, he’s had guys like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and a younger and better Manu Ginobili for games, but with no bona fide stars other than LaMarcus Aldridge who has been playing like a shadow of his former self, Gregg Popovich had to use Bryn Forbes and Joel Anthony in a playoff game. This win further cements his status as the greatest when it comes to motivating and developing players, and if the Spurs get through Golden State and Cleveland in order to win this year’s championship, then he might be the best coach of all time in terms of winning, too.