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Don't Send Gregg Popovich to Voicemail

10/20/2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

No team has mastered the rote exercise of the 82-game slog like the San Antonio Spurs. November losses are regarded as teaching moments, and suggestions that the roster is too old are shrugged off as alarmist.  It's not that anyone in San Antonio thinks that laying an egg at home to a division rival should be dismissed, or that the durability of the team's best players is unimportant.  But it's small.  And the Spurs never sweat the small stuff.  

Mike Finger at the San Antonio Express-News notes, "The Spurs are now 0-3 for the first time since they started playing with monochromatic basketballs."  That's after a 98-81 spanking at the hands of Dallas last night, a game that was never closer than 10 after halftime.  The silver lining?  The Spurs got a closer -- and first regular-season -- look at their first round draft pick, combo guard George Hill out of IUPIU.

Finger recounts a funny story about Hill and Gregg Popovich on draft day, when the rookie had his phone turned off.  When Popovich finally got hold of Hill after several unsuccessful attempts, he chewed out his new rookie for not picking up.  Popovich was just engaging in a little shtick at Hill's expense, but the rookie thought his coach was dead serious.  

Last night, his team down double-digits in the third quarter, Popovich called the Hill's number again:

After sitting out the first two games of the season with a sprained left thumb, [Hill] finally made his entrance late in the third quarter, with the Spurs down by 19.

He clanged his first jumper, but when Popovich didn't rip his head off, he settled down and sparked the Spurs' only lively run of the game. One of the reasons Popovich was so high on Hill from the beginning was his defense, and Hill showed why as he hounded Jason Terry and ran at Jason Kidd. He made a steal that led to two free throws, hit a jumper off a screen, and attacked DeSagana Diop by going to the same left hand that was wrapped in athletic tape.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs closing the gap and the shot clock down to its last three ticks, Hill dribbled on the right wing, apparently oblivious to the time crunch. The Spurs assistants all yelled frantically from the other end of floor, but Hill was just lulling his defender to sleep. He spun into the lane and hit a floater just as the shot-clock expired.

"He's got great composure, Popovich said of Hill, who finished with 11 points. "That's the great thing about him.

Judging by how the Spurs have struggled this first week, they'll need more than just composure. Their three losses have come to playoff teams, sure, but none that are expected to finish in the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. Won't the Lakers, Jazz and Hornets make the Spurs look even older?

Hill represents one remedy for that, but he said he doesn't feel the pressure of living up to such expectations. He didn't worry about proving himself when he arrived in San Antonio, because he figured the Spurs knew what they were doing when they drafted him. Wasn't this the organization that found Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili?

"Nobody knew who they were, either, Hill said. "The way I see it, with this team, I can't go wrong.