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“That’s a European question, right?” he said. “They usually do in Italy. We don’t.”

Asked next about how he’d ready his team for Game 7 in Miami after the devastating loss, Popovich didn’t even pretend to try.

“I get them on the bus. It arrives at the ramp over here. We get off the bus. We go on the court, and we play,” Popovich replied. “That’s how we get ready.”

The Spurs tried to follow their coach’s lead, but it only worked so well.

Duncan, who scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half and none after the third quarter, shrugged off the odd end-of-the-game substitutions, saying the Spurs have done it that way countless times in the past.

“I don’t know what happened in the fourth (quarter) and overtime. It was just _ the opportunities weren’t there.”

Parker, who had 19 points, said he was “cramping a little bit at the end of the game,” referring to a hamstring injury that’s dogged him the last few games.

“But,” he quickly added, “I’ll go with whatever Pop decides.”

Ultimately, it was left to Ginobili to present a defense, and the quick summary was Popovich is so many moves ahead that even questioning his decisions only makes the rest of us look foolish. To his credit, Ginobili took full blame for his own mistakes, including the last two of eight crippling turnovers that proved decisive.

“I had a very good game last game, and today I just couldn’t maintain it,” he said. “I was very insecure (with the ball). I had a career high in turnovers, and in a really bad moment. It really helps to make me feel terrible.”

No doubt the rest of the Spurs feel the same, standing just seconds from a fifth title that would have removed any doubts about which franchise was the smartest in the NBA. Instead of chasing stars, the preferred route since Michael Jordan walked away, the Spurs built patiently through the draft, made a number of shrewd acquisitions, and let Popovich scheme how to blend and maximize their talents.

One thing that Game 6 proved beyond a doubt is that James, despite all the pressure and criticism, is an unstoppable force when he sets his mind to the task. The other is when a team collapses as completely as San Antonio did, there’s plenty enough blame to go around, but the first sign of a crack almost always surfaces at the top.

Popovich is a great coach who suffers fools poorly, and after listening to a rambling question about how his team “had it in the bag,” he cut a reporter off.

“What’s your question,” he interjected finally. “You want to know how angry we’ll be?”

We’ll take that one for him: Plenty.

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