Throughout the Gregg Popovich era, the San Antonio Spurs have done things their way, at times incurring the wrath of a broader basketball culture that considers marketing and fan service to be paramount virtues. That disregard for the NBA's business interests was never made clearer than in November 2012 when Popovich sat four of his top five players for a marquee, nationally televised TNT game against the defending champion Miami Heat. Commissioner David Stern responded by levying an unprecedented $250,000 fine against the franchise, but Popovich did the same thing a little more than a month later for a locally televised game against the New York Knicks without seeing repercussions.
On Thursday night, Popovich will test Stern's resolve for another TNT game. As announced by the Spurs on Twitter, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will join the injured Tony Parker on the sidelines when the team faces off against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland:
Both Tim Duncan (rest) and Manu Ginobili (rest) will not play in tonight's Spurs-Warriors game.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 19, 2013
Additionally, Tony Parker will miss his second consecutive game after suffering a right shin contusion against the L.A. Clippers on Monday. — San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 19, 2013
Although Popovich has rested players in these situations before, it's safe to say this situation is different due to the game's status as a nationally televised rematch of last spring's fantastic second-round playoff series. However, there are reasons to think that Stern won't care much.
As noted by Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk, Stern explained the $250,000 fine as a reaction to "the totality of the facts in this case," which included: four players sitting out with no clear injuries, those players not even sitting courtside, one player being 26 years old, the Spurs not making the plan clear beforehand, and, although he didn't say it outright, the fact that the game served as a potential NBA Finals preview played by the two best teams in their respective conferences up to that point in the season.
Thursday's game is quite different, if only because Parker was announced as out for the game on Tuesday and due to Duncan (37) and Ginobili (36 with considerable wear and tear) being of advanced age. The Spurs have also played quite a few games in recent days: Thursday night's contest marks their seventh game (and sixth road game) in 10 days stretching back to December 10. It figures that Ginobili and Duncan actually do need the rest, even if the NBA and its corporate partners might wish they would play.
Plus, while this matchup between the Warriors and Spurs looks quite interesting on paper, it's simply not on the level of last November's Spurs-Heat tilt. For one thing, it starts at 10:30 ET, ensuring that a large portion of the potential audience will be in bed before the beginning of the second half. It also has relatively little novelty — these teams already played on November 8 in San Antonio (a 76-74 Spurs win) and will face off twice more in the last few weeks of the season.
It looks increasingly likely that Stern's fine of the Spurs will be a one-time event. Scenarios such as that high-profile Heat game are fairly rare, and it appears that Popovich will at least pay some attention to the NBA"s promotional interests when he decides to rest his big-name players.
Oh, and if you're saddened by the lack of these Spurs for Thursday's game, please remember that the Spurs' secondary players nearly beat the Heat in that game last November. The great thing about the NBA regular season is that a great game can come from anywhere.
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