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There's no denying Gregg Popovich's legacy in the NBA, but sometimes even the best make mistakes. In Thursday night's 105-94 playoff loss to the Grizzlies, the Spurs coach made the decision to sit his entire starting lineup just 52 seconds into the second half.
OUT: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dewayne Dedmon, Danny Green, Tony Parker.
IN: Patty Mills, Pau Gasol, Jonathon Simmons, David Lee, Kyle Anderson
"We turned it over twice to start the minute like we were out on a picnic someplace," Popovich said 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."
The starters struggled early, so Popovich wanted to see if the bench could produce. They couldn't. After trailing by just four at halftime, the Spurs suddenly fell to a 12-point deficit on the road with 8:52 left in the third quarter. Moments later Popovich started rolling starters back into the game, but the damage was already done.
The third quarter was crucial in the Grizzlies' win as they outscored the Spurs 31-17. Considering the impact the quarter had on the game, the decision to rest starters was a clear talking point in the team's postgame press conferences.
Here's what some of the players said about their coach's decision:
Tony Parker: "I don't know what to say."
Kawhi Leonard: "He just disappointed in the last couple plays. 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."
Manu Ginobili: "Pop got upset with the guys starting the quarter, sat them, and the whole momentum changed. 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."
Game 3 was frustrating for the Spurs, but they still lead the series 2-1.