The San Antonio Spurs tanked a game Tuesday night. There is no better way to say it. The Spurs played a game and didn’t try to win.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested his stars, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, in a game at Portland. San Antonio already was missing injured starters Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter. So the Spurs started Danny Green, Cory Joseph, DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard and Richard Jefferson. Popovich still had a couple of handy guys off the bench, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. Neal played 18 minutes, Bonner six. James Anderson played 35 minutes; Eric Dawson played 32.
Portland led 41-23 after one quarter, 66-43 at halftime and 103-63 after three periods. The Blazers eventually won 137-97. No way could San Antonio win in Portland without Duncan, Parker, Splitter and Ginobili.
Popovich had justifiable reasons for tossing a game. In this high-density season, 66 games played over 132 days, fatigue sets in. Wear and tear affects even the hearty, much less ancients like Duncan. Coaches have to watch the minutes of their players. Coaches have to be careful with nagging injuries. Popovich, one of the NBA’s greatest coaches ever, long has compromised regular-season results to make sure his team is playoff-ready.
But Popovich cheated the game Tuesday night. Not cheated as in rigged the game clock or bugged the Blazer locker room. Cheated the game as in didn’t give a variety of elements their money’s worth. Cheated the game as in didn’t respect the competitive side of a league that long has battled the perception that regular-season games don’t matter much.
* The Spurs cheated the ticket-buyers. Portland’s ticket prices are like Oklahoma City’s and everyone else’s. Unbelievably high. A mid-court ticket, 11 rows up, for the Thursday Portland-Miami game: $866. You pay $866, or $466, or $166, or $66, and you deserve the best show the teams can provide.
* The Spurs cheated the national fans. San Antonio-Portland was the back end of an NBATV doubleheader. Spurs-Blazers isn’t like Knicks-Heat, or Celtics-Lakers. NBA fans across the nation don’t get to see San Antonio a ton and don’t get to see Portland much. And yet, here on a reasonably-high stage, we get a total mismatch, totally blown off by one of the teams.
* The Spurs cheated the networks. I know, NBATV isn’t quite like TNT or ESPN. But these networks pay huge money for these television rights, and when we have a bogus game like Portland-San Antonio, it lessens the quality of the overall product. The viewer is sufficiently told that the regular season has its hole. The regular season can be shaky. The regular season, feeding the stereotype, can be irrelevant. And that hurts the ratings. Not to mention the eventual rights fees.
* The Spurs cheated the Blazers’ chief competitors. San Antonio played at Utah on Monday night, at Portland on Tuesday night and goes to Denver on Thursday night. The Jazz, Nuggets and Blazers are all wrangling for playoff positioning, perhaps even the eighth spot in the West, which is the last seat on the lifeboat. Popovich made the decision to play his stars against Utah on Monday, and the Spurs won. We assume the stars will play Thursday night at Denver. But Pop gave Portland a game. If the Blazers reach the playoffs by a game over Denver and/or Utah, Portland should send Popovich a bottle of wine.