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Coach Pop has done masterful job keeping Spurs focused this season

Coach Pop has done masterful job keeping Spurs focused this season

Credit: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 7: Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs shakes hands after Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Utah Jazz in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at EnergySolutions Arena on May 07, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Spurs won the game 87-81 and swept the Jazz four games to zero. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

by David Flores / Kens5.com

kens5.com

Posted on May 8, 2012 at 6:34 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 12 at 6:38 AM

By nature, coaches are worrywarts. They learn early in their careers that high anxiety is an occupational hazard.

Whether you're a high school coach or Gregg Popovich leading the Spurs on another playoff run, the pressure to succeed is the same.

I cut my teeth in sportswriting covering Texas A&I football in the mid-1970s when the Javelinas were led by Gil Steinke, who built a small-college powerhouse that consistently sent players to the pro ranks.

Steinke's last three teams went 13-0, 12-0 and 13-0 en route to winning NAIA Division I national titles in 1974, 1975 and 1976. The more the Javelinas won, the more nervous Steinke became. He was like a cat on a hot tin roof during A&I's winning streak, keeping his assistant coaches and players on edge with his incessant worrying.

The Javelinas never got complacent because Steinke wouldn't allow it. He tempered his team's success with a critical eye and blunt language that didn't discriminate. Steinke would dress down an All-American as quickly as he would a third-stringer.

I've thought about Steinke, who died in 1995 and is in the College Football Hall of Fame, as I've watched Popovich coach the Spurs this season.

Popovich, named NBA Coach of the Year last week, has at least one quality that defined Steinke throughout his career: He does a masterful job of keeping his players focused.

Spurs were fortunate to survive Jazz rally in Game 4

The Spurs completed a sweep of the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs Monday night, hanging on for an 87-81 victory after leading by 21 points with 6:17 left. The Jazz whittled the lead to four points before a layup by Manu Ginobili sealed the victory with 18.9 seconds remaining.

The ending shouldn't have been as close as it was, but that's what sometimes happens when a team lowers its intensity a few notches after building a sizable lead.

If you're fortunate, as the Spurs were, you survive the scare and learn from the experience. And make no mistake: Popovich will make sure his players take something from the final six minutes of Game 4 and continue growing as a team.

As the Spurs move on to the Western Conference semifinals against either the Los Angeles Clippers or Memphis Grizzlies, Popovich will do what he does best before the next series begins. He'll prepare his players with intense workouts and stay on them.

The Spurs' victory Monday night was their 14th in a row, quite a feat for a team that many wrote off after it was ousted in the first round last year by No. 8 seed Memphis. But this is a different Spurs team and a different season.

The Clippers took a 3-1 lead against the Grizzlies on Monday night, but the smart money says Memphis will extend the series at home Wednesday night. If the Clippers close it out Wednesday, the earliest the Western Conference semifinals could start would be Friday.

That's more than enough time for Popovich to get the Spurs ready for the challenge that lies ahead in the next round, regardless of the opponent.

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