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Gregg Popovich played for the long term, not the win Tuesday

Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, left, talks with Tim Duncan, right, during a time-out following the third quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


Be clear about this — the Knicks earned their victory over the Spurs. For the first time seemingly in memory, the Knicks pushed an elite team into their game. The Knicks hit their shots (ones provided by unusually poor defense from the Spurs, but the Knicks hit them). They made the plays. It’s a signature win for a young Knicks team and they should celebrate it.

But at the end of this game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made the move of a wise coach with a veteran team that has some scratching their heads, as Henry Abbott at TrueHoop pointed out.

With 3:10 left in a game in New York, the Spurs down by ten and the game a longshot, but decidedly undecided, Popovich summoned from his bench three players who had not taken off their sweats all night: Chris Quinn, Ime Udoka and Tiago Splitter. They were to complete the Spurs’ comeback -- or not, as it turned out -- teamed with Matt Bonner and Gary Neal.

Sitting on the Spurs’ bench: Some of the greatest clutch performers in NBA history, including Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. With the best players out there playing, maybe this was about to become three minutes for the ages. The Spurs have come back from bigger deficits in less time.

After this game, the Spurs hopped on a plane and flew to Boston, where they face the Celtics tonight. A back-to-back as games 34 and 35 in a long 82-games season. A regular season which is followed by what really matters — the playoffs.

It comes back to what the Celtics showed last season, going 11-11 in their last 22 but getting rested and healthy for the playoffs — then making a run all the way to Game 7 of the NBA finals. What really matters for veteran teams is taking care of themselves and reaching the playoffs in good condition.

If that means not throwing everything into a longshot at a comeback in early January, then so be it. Fans may not love it, the league may not love it, but it’s the reality in a six-month long regular season.