No reminder should have been needed, but Gregg Popovich reminded everyone why he’s the NBA’s top coach.
After getting embarrassed on their home floor in the series opener, the San Antonio Spurs appeared lifeless. Popovich, with his shaggy white beard, had never looked older. The skeptics picked up shovels and prepared to put the Spurs six feet under.
Mike D’Antoni and the 3-point launching Houston Rockets were onto something. This was the new way to play. This was the future.
James Harden was solidifying his MVP campaign. Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge was a dinosaur, and signing him was a mistake.
Most of us bought into at least some of that storyline, which turned out to be complete nonsense. The joke was on the skeptics, and, of course, on the Rockets.
Up 3-2 in the series, Popovich gambled Thursday by sitting his best player, Kawhi Leonard, who wanted to play with a sore left ankle. Even without Leonard’s scoring and defense, the Spurs stunned basically everyone by humiliating Harden and the Rockets 114-75 in Houston.
Aldridge was dominant with 34 points and 12 rebounds. Harden was horrible with 10 points and six turnovers.
At the South Point sports book, Houston closed as a 9-point favorite and minus-550 on the moneyline. Obviously, several bettors took a beating.
Instead of resting Leonard for a Game 7 on Sunday, Popovich will have him ready for Game 1 at Golden State.
Popovich made shrewd adjustments, especially defensively, on the fly to short-circuit the Rockets. He moved forward without point guard Tony Parker, who suffered a season-ending injury during the series, and he won the close-out game by 39 points without Leonard.
So, does Pop have another trick up his sleeve?
The oddsmakers are not buying it, offering the Spurs at eye-popping prices in the Western Conference finals.
The Westgate opened the Warriors as minus-1,600 series favorites, with the Spurs at plus-900. A major offshore book opened a lower series line of minus-900 on Golden State.
The Warriors also opened as 10½-point favorites in Game 1. Leonard is expected back on the floor for the underdogs.
San Antonio has one distinct advantage: Popovich. Golden State will be guided by interim coach Mike Brown, if Steve Kerr remains sidelined with complications from back surgery.