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“I’m very fortunate in that I didn’t have to deal with star egos. I dealt with grown-ups. Guys with character and prioritization already set in their lives and their values,” Popovich said before Game 2. “So when Timmy (Duncan) came along, he understand his talent and made it very easy for Tim to start to become the go-to guy. As Timmy got older, he understood the value of Manu (Ginobili) and Tony (Parker) and was able to share that spotlight with him. So I never had a talk, I never had a discussion, a meeting, or anything with any of those guys about that.”

Not that the former Air Force officer is averse to having conversations with his players. He’s anything but, especially during a game when poor shot selection is a crime that ranks just beneath lax defense.

“When you have Coach Pop screaming at you every day, it will make you pass the ball. He is always big on you have to find a better shot,” Parker said. “Always trying to find the better shot, the better shot all season long, extra pass. We have guys who can penetrate and find open guys, so we like to play for each other. We like to play like that. It’s not just one guy on our team. it can come from everywhere.”

So far it has, though Parker, Duncan and Ginobili are the core around which everything else is built. That doesn’t mean they don’t get screamed at, too, because Popovich is an equal opportunity screamer.

He couldn’t even remember telling his team to get nasty in Game 1. Shortly after, though, Duncan took a charge, the guards began getting stops, and the Spurs were suddenly in control.

Going into Thursday night’s game in Oklahoma, the Spurs are streaking toward history. They’ve got a chance to run the table, something even some of the great Lakers or Bulls teams were never able to do.

They’re playing big boy basketball when it matters most.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or http:/