The San Antonio Spurs scored only 32 points in the first half of Thursday's 95-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls, and slow starts have been a recurring problem for them lately. When asked if it was his responsibility or the responsibility of the veterans on the team to get the Spurs mentally ready, coach Gregg Popovich's answer was as blunt as you'd expect it to be.
"I don't remember playing tonight," Popovich told reporters. "I didn't play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It's your job. If you're a plumber and you don't do your job, you don't get any work. I don't think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, and he's not a doctor anymore. If you're a basketball player, you come ready. It's called maturity. It's your job."
Gregg Popovich with a great response when asked it was his fault his players weren't motivated to play tonight pic.twitter.com/jdIUHB34Eh— gifdsports (@gifdsports) December 9, 2016
San Antonio (18-5) has the second-best record in the league, but it has a habit of falling behind by double digits and fighting back. Popovich wants to see more consistency, which has historically been a strength of the Spurs.
"We played 24 minutes again, as we have for about the last 10 games," Popovich said, via ESPN's Michael C. Wright. "We go through the motions in the first half. I think we shot one free throw in the first half. We shot four or so the second half. But we played harder in the second half. I don't know if we played much smarter. Our opponents have outplayed us physically and execution-wise in most first halves for most of the season. So now we pull it together in the second half, and played harder and smarter and got it to [a] four [-point deficit]. That's the disappointing part: We're not a very consistent team, and we haven't learned as a group that the game is 48 minutes. We also have some people playing very poorly. You have to participate in your own recovery. Some players have to play better."
Popovich added that what bothers him is that they're not playing hard enough, or with enough "fiber" and "grunt." This was the second time this season he's described them this way -- the first was after a 96-91 win over the shorthanded Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 22, when he called San Antonio's performance "pathetic."
Most teams in the NBA would kill to have the Spurs' record, particularly their 13-1 mark on the road -- Thursday's loss was their first away from home all season -- but that's not the point. Popovich's position here is about the bigger picture and building winning habits. You know, the things that have made San Antonio so successful for the past 19 years.