Gregg Popovich Benches Starting 5, Sparks Key Game 3 Comeback After Bad Start

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 25, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs shouts to his team during their loss to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on February 22, 2013 in Oakland, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With 4:52 remaining in the first quarter of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had seen enough from his starting unit.

So he benched them. All of them.

Tony Parker had coughed the ball up four times, and the Spurs had committed seven turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game. Combined with a 2-of-9 effort from the field, San Antonio's first five had dug themselves a 16-5 hole.

The Spurs on the floor simply didn't come close to matching the Grizzlies' energy in the early going, and Pop's move was designed to avert a potential game-deciding quarter. Well, it was meant to do that and send a message to his starters that this kind of performance simply wouldn't be tolerated.

Message received. The Spurs starters bounced back in a major way, cutting the halftime deficit to just four points and then winning the third and fourth quarters to force overtime. From there, Tim Duncan took over, leading the Spurs to a decisive 103-94 win.

It's no secret that early series deficits don't bother the Grizzlies. They fell behind in both of their previous series this postseason before roaring back to advance. Popovich obviously knew this, and he wasn't about to let Memphis begin its comeback so easily.

Memphis' home crowd was electric, and that enthusiasm got the Grizzlies going early. Tony Allen was energized, Mike Conley was flying all over the floor and Tayshaun Prince's wonky jumper was actually falling.

Conversely, Danny Green took a terrible shot, Duncan was careless, and we've already chronicled Parker's epic struggles. In short, the Spurs came out sleepwalking while the Grizz shot out of the tunnel at a dead sprint.

The San Antonio reserves that came into the game actually did play a bit better than the starters, but the Grizzlies still ended the first quarter with a 29-13 advantage.

But really, who cares about the score? It's just unequivocally awesome that Pop took three future Hall of Famers and a pair of terrific young wings and put them on a timeout for misbehaving. What's even better is that it worked.

No other NBA coach even attempts such a bold move in a playoff game, let alone gets to sit back and watch it turn out perfectly.

Best of all, Pop gave a vintage in-game interview shortly after his line change. If you look closely, you can actually catch a glimmer in his eye when he realizes that he's going to be able to answer the second question with the same one-word response as the first. Great stuff.

Long live Popovich.