The Spurs turned nasty just in the nick of time. Now it’s the Thunder’s turn. Game 1 of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals went San Antonio’s way Sunday night. The Spurs won 101-98 after coach Gregg Popovich’s “I want some nasty” speech captured his team’s attention and his city’s fancy.
The Alamo City is abuzz about Popovich’s plea to his team, which inspired a Spurs comeback from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit. They’re talking websites and T-shirts and restaurant menu changes about the latest motivational ploy from one of the greatest coaches in basketball history.
“I just wanted us to get off our heels,” Popovich said Monday. “I thought we were playing unconfidently, not in a very aggressive mode. We weren’t moving the ball, we were holding the ball, weren’t making quick decisions.”
In other words, a lot like the Thunder played in the fourth quarter. Which must change if the Thunder wants to return to Oklahoma City with the best-of-seven series tied. Game 2 is at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Spurs’ AT&T Center.
“I think we played hard all four quarters until that last spurt, where we gave up points and didn’t move the ball,” said the Thunder’s James Harden. “It’s just about playing hard. We’ve just got to bounce back and be ready.”
Said Thunder star Russell Westbrook, “We’ll be all right.”
But the Spurs have won 19 straight games, matching the fourth-longest streak in NBA history. And they’ve got Popovich, who has coached four NBA championship teams and seems to be pushing all the right buttons.
“They were being more aggressive than us,” said the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. “They were getting the loose balls. We were turning the ball over a lot. So many things were going wrong. Pop was seeing that we were lacking that and he communicated his way.”
The command was captured by TNT’s telecast.
Popovich is the rare NBA coach unafraid to deliver a tongue-lashing.
“We’ve heard that a lot,” said Ginobili. “In the locker room, when nobody else hears it, and with different words, too. So we were not surprised. We knew we had to do it better.”
Now it’s the Thunder’s turn to respond.