Each of the eight NBA playoff series opened this weekend, with four games on Saturday and four more on Sunday. A quick perusal of Sportscenter might lead you to believe that the best play of the opening weekend was Gibson’s alley-oop to LeBron, or Tim Duncan’s three, or Manu’s drive. However, I would give the Best Play of the Opening Weekend honors to none other than Gregg Popovich, coach of the Spurs.
Keep in mind that we live in a time when basketball teams have a ridiculous amount of timeouts. Somehow, football players are schooled in the two-minute drill, hockey players change lines on the fly, soccer never stops, but basketball players look to call a timeout at virtually every possession change in the final two minutes of a game. Why they cannot seem to make decisions on the fly is beyond me, and why the league cannot seem to make rule changes to speed up and infuse more excitement into the end of games is beyond me. (I suppose it has something to do with money from commercial breaks. Go figure.)
After Steve Nash sunk a tremendous three-pointer to tie the game in the second overtime with fifteen seconds left, the kneejerk reaction of nearly every other coach in the game would have been to call a timeout and set up the final play. Popovich, however, is arguably the best in-game coach in basketball, and he let his players play. Fifteen seconds is plenty of time to collect themselves and set up a play without calling a huddle. More importantly, the Suns had their small, shooting offense on the floor, and calling a timeout would have only enabled them to put their best defense on the floor, including Shaq. Instead, Shaq-less, Ginobili drove the lane for a short bank shot that Shaq surely would have affected had he been in play.Having timeouts at the end of the game is an overrated aspect of the game. Popovich is one of the few coaches that has mastered the art of not using timeouts, and instead capitalizing on mismatches. His players are drilled enough to recognize this, as well as being able to create and execute plays on their own without a huddle. It is refreshing to see an exciting end sequence without constant breaks in the action. Without Popovich, they might be starting up the 71st overtime by now.