If you could somehow distill a formula for all the success Gregg Popovich has had as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, it would sell for millions. ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy thinks he has a clue as to why his brilliance seems to work time and again.
He might have a point.
Popovich has always been a firm believer that no player is bigger than the team. He also understands that no coach is bigger than the team. It's respect for the organization and the institution of basketball itself that's made him such a humble leader.
Even if what he typically exudes falls somewhere between terse and curmudgeonly, it's an open secret that Popovich is actually one of the nicer and classier guys around.
His Spurs blew out the Dallas Mavericks in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday, ensuring the No. 1-seeded team will advance to play the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference semifinals. Game 1 is Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT.
The San Antonio Express-News' Mike Monroe (h/t The Dallas Morning News) writes that, "Popovich had given his players a pregame mandate: Make Dallas feel you."
His emphasis on committed defense is part of what's set Popovich apart all this years, at least in terms of his coaching philosophy. He wanted a more aggressive showing from his troops, and that's exactly what he got.
The team will need more of Popovich's wizardry to overcome the Blazers' long list of talented scorers. Led by power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard, the Blazers will be riding a high of their own after besting the Houston Rockets in six games.
As he's oft to do, Popovich expressed the utmost respect for Portland as he looked forward to the series ahead, according to The Oregonian's Mike Tokito:
It’s obviously one heck of a team. We’ve had trouble with them all year long. They’ve got guys on that team that we haven’t guarded yet. They’re very talented, they’re young and energetic, Terry (Stotts) does a great job. They know what they want to do, and they’re playing great basketball. It’ll be a big challenge, obviously.
Fortunately for Popovich, the Spurs are playing pretty good basketball too, at least after that Game 7. The Big Three will look to remain on track, and small forward Kawhi Leonard is continuing to come into his own as a postseason contributor.
This has all the makings of a seven-game series. Prepare to stick around for this one.