Down only four points to start the half, the starters turned the ball over twice in the opening 52 seconds, causing their tenured head coach Gregg Popovich to sit them all out and plug the bench unit in one go.
“We turned it over twice to start the minute like we were out on a picnic someplace,” Popovich told reporters after the game. “I don’t know. Those two turnovers, and then the mistake defensively where Marc [Gasol] got the 3-pointer at the top, and all of a sudden, it was a nine-point game. I thought at that point, we lost a little bit of composure and a little bit of confidence, and the rest ensued.”
While the daring coaching move was meant to send a message to his team, it didn’t translate into results during this playoff game, quickly falling to a 12-point deficit by the 8:52 mark of the third quarter.
Most of the starters were in shock at first, but were understanding of his reasoning following the game.
“I don’t know what to say,” point guard Tony Parker was left speechless from the unexpected coaching maneuver.
“He just disappointed in the last couple plays,” said star forward Kawhi Leonard of his coach. “So I guess he thought that we all should come out at the game at that time, and see if that second unit had more energy.”
“Pop got upset with the guys starting the quarter, sat them, and the whole momentum changed,” explained Manu Ginobili, who came into the game as part of that supporting bench unit. “In playoff games, especially on the road, a two-minute mental ‘something’ can become a 10-point deficit. That’s what happened. We were in good shape at the half. Not playing well, not shooting great, down four on the road, and it was a good situation. It was OK for us. We had that moment there in which the whole game changed. I guess he wanted to point out that it was not the right approach to start a third quarter.”