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Big Three Rest While Subs Scare Nuggets

By Daniel Strickland on February 4, 2009.

Whatever his rationale, Pop’s strategy against the Nuggets in Denver last night scared the hell out of me. Sure, I understood that Ginobili needed to rest his bruised hip.

“Usually, I would try to argue with (Popovich about sitting),” Ginobili told the San Antonio Express-News on Tuesday. “This time, I didn’t. I woke up really sore.”

I also understood that Duncan, Parker and Finley played a lot of minutes Monday night in Oakland. But did Pop really need to keep all four players on the bench the entire game?

As expected, the Spurs lost. But even with Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Finley on the bench, the Spurs were competitive. How competitive? After a 3-pointer by Mason with two minutes to play, the Spurs trailed by just four points, 98-94.

“We should have attacked this game with a professional attitude and an intensity, and probably should have gotten the game over by the fourth quarter,” said Nuggets coach George Karl. “San Antonio showed a lot of heart and a lot of character and scared the hell out of us.”

That’s no small feat against a Denver team that is now 3rd in the Western Conference and, with Chauncey Billups at point, thinks it can contend with the Lakers and the Spurs.

Which is why Pop benched the Big Three.

Here’s my take on Pop’s thinking… The Spurs just started their infamous Rodeo Road Trip*, which takes a toll on players. The Spurs needed overtime to beat the Warriors Monday night. The Big Three combined for 119 minutes in that game and needed some rest. The Spurs are playing okay in back-to-back games this season — 7 of 10 — but those wins came against the T’wolves (twice), the Clippers, the Hawks, the Sixers, the Bulls and the Pacers, whose combined winning percentage at home is less than 50%. The Nuggets are 19-6 at home. The last thing the Nuggets needed was a psychological boost from beating the Spurs.

If you’re going to lose, make your opponent think that they only won because you let them.

The Spurs face the Celtics for the first time this Sunday in a game that could be a preview of the 2009 NBA Finals. Better the Big Three be rested for this big game. Thanks to Pop, they will be.

* Editor’s note: Although the Rodeo Road Trip lasts eight games this season, by February 21 the Spurs will have played 14 of 17 games on the road. Road trip, indeed.

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