How Gregg Popovich Took L.A. Lakers Down with Crunch-Time Genius

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 14, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game with the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on November 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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During the San Antonio Spurs' 84-82 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, a hint of where these two organizations are currently at appeared.

The Lakers squandered repeated chances to defend their home court and push their record back to .500.

Thanks to some timely calls from the league's longest tenured head coach, Popovich, the Spurs were able to steal a game on the road that they had no business winning.

For starters, San Antonio shot just 39 percent from the field and just 64 percent from the free-throw line.

They also lost the rebounding battle by double-digits (48-38).

Pau Gasol's 17-foot jump-shot gave the Lakers and their interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff an 82-79 advantage with just 1:02 remaining.

When Gasol swatted Tiago Splitter's layup attempt out of bounds with just six seconds left on the shot clock on the ensuing Spurs possesion, a Lakers victory seemed inevitable.

But veteran Tim Duncan received the inbounds pass at the left elbow and bullied his way across the basket, converting a running hook shot with just one second left on the shot clock.

Metta World Peace missed a three-point attempt from the corner on the Lakers' next possesion, and Dwight Howard was whistled for a loose-ball foul on the rebound.

San Antonio now had the basketball on their end of the floor with 19 seconds left and just a one-point deficit.

Rather than drawing up a play for his All-Star point guard Tony Parker (who, by the way, had already totaled team-highs of 19 points and seven assists), Popovich opted to put the ball in the hands of his second-year small forward, Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard received the ball near the top of the key and former NBA afterthought Danny Green curled around a screen and knocked down a three-pointer over the outstretched arms of a trailing Kobe Bryant.

Green's three-pointer left the Lakers nine seconds on the clock, and Coach Bickerstaff called a timeout to draw up a play.

At worst, his play could force overtime, or, at best, send a frenzied Staples Center crowd home with a game-winning three. 

Only Bickerstaff's play never came to fruition. The Spurs hounded Kobe Bryant so Metta World Peace inbounded the ball to Pau Gasol in the near corner.

Gasol looked Bryant's way as the clock ticked down, but the big man never found a passing lane that he felt comfortable with.

Gasol forced a three-point attempt with just two seconds remaining and Tiago Splitter controlled the rebound, giving the Spurs their Western Conference-leading seventh victory.

If the Lakers had a healthy Steve Nash (or even Steve Blake) and/or Mike D'Antoni on their sideline, could this game have ended differently?

It's possible.

But it's hard to imagine that D'Antoni (or anyone for that matter) could have predicted Popovich would decide to go Leonard-to-Green with the game on the line.

The Lakers' coaching carousel may be dominating the basketball headlines, but the steady leadership of Popovich has the Spurs dominating the conference standings.