So that's what US$250,000 worth of rest looks like.
Tony Parker scored 30 points and Tim Duncan had 27 points and 15 rebounds, giving the San Antonio Spurs their money's worth for the unprecedented fine from the NBA they absorbed for putting rest over the league's business interests in a 99-95 overtime victory over the Memphis Grizzlies today.
Coach Gregg Popovich said before the victory he was "disappointed" by the US$250,000 fine levied by Commissioner David Stern after the Spurs sent Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili - three of the NBA's biggest names - home from a road trip early instead of playing them against LeBron James and the Miami Heat on Friday (NZ time) in a nationally televised game.
This might ease his frustration. Because chances are Popovich wasn't second-guessing his decision while watching the 36-year-old Duncan put up his best game this season, Parker eclipsing 30 points for the third time in five games and Ginobili sinking the tying 3-pointer with under a minute left to force overtime.
Parker mentioned afterward - perhaps not coincidentally - that the two days off made him feel like he had "a lot of energy" in the extra period.
"We definitely always have Pop's back. Me, personally I really appreciate what he's done for my career," Parker said. "Because of him, I've been playing all those years and all those summers with the national team because he's always protecting me. Timmy's the same way and Manu is the same way."
He then added how he wanted to win this one for his coach.
"I definitely felt like it was for Pop," Parker said. "I wanted to be super aggressive and win the game."
Marc Gasol led Memphis with 20 points. Zach Randolph had 17 points and 15 rebounds and was one of three Memphis players with double-doubles.
Mike Conley had 18 points and 12 assists, and Rudy Gay had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
While the Spurs' Big Three was refreshed from two days off, Memphis was playing the second half of a back-to-back.
"We don't use any excuses here," Conley said. "We felt like we had a chance to win the game regardless of back-to-back or resting. We felt like we had a chance to win."
The unprecedented fine announced yesterday overshadowed the first meeting this season between two of the West's winningest teams. Even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban - who knows a thing or two about running afoul of Stern and getting hit in the checkbook - chimed in before his team's own game Saturday night.
Cuban believes the NBA was right to sanction his top rivals for messing with the league's "money train" - meaning lucrative national television contracts. Yet he also called scheduling that marquee TNT game at the end of the Spurs' six-game road swing a "dumb" move on the NBA's part.
Popovich said he doesn't know if the Spurs will appeal. He also didn't rule out sitting out players again in the future.
Succinctly addressing the fine before the game, he said the decision shows the NBA thinking about its bottom line and didn't elaborate on conversations with the league before the penalty came down yesterday.
"What I do from my perspective is from a coaching perspective," Popovich said. "And I think the league operates from a business perspective. And I think that's reflective in the action that they took."
San Antonio fans welcomed Popovich back with a thunderous ovation before the game. One fan behind the Grizzlies' bench held up a sign reading "Pop knows best." Others wore shirts with more colorful language directed toward Stern.
The Grizzlies played without Tony Allen for a second straight game because of an injured groin. It's unclear when their starting shooting guard may return.
Popovich put his Big Three and starter Danny Green on a plane and sent them home. It came at the end of a six-game road trip and after the Spurs had played five times in seven days, and Popovich justified his decision by saying he didn't want to subject them to so much wear-and-tear this early in the season.
Stern apologised to NBA fans before the Miami game and vowed his office would hand down "substantial sanctions," which he delivered on the next day. He said he "concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."
Teams are required to report as soon as they know a player will not travel because of injury. The league's statement said the Spurs were in violation of league policy reviewed with the board of governors in April 2010 against resting players in a manner "contrary to the best interests of the NBA."
The rest didn't benefit everyone. Green was scoreless in 19 minutes before leaving with tightness in his left hamstring.
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