by Alejandro de los Rios
Some context: Seeing as how I rarely have anything to ask about the actual games being played, I try to limit myself in press conferences to just one question towards the end. My reasoning is that other people who get paid much more money than me to do this every day certainly deserve priority. The playoffs magnify this self-imposed restriction thanks to the policy that every reporter must ask their question into a microphone for television purposes.
But after Saturday night's game, I casually raised my hand after Greg Popovich's opening remarks and found myself first in line. A bit nervous, I asked what a kind of broad and maybe a bit naive question about the crowd and how they compared to the rest of the league and to games earlier in the season.
"That's not part of my job," he said about comparing fans.
Completely fair statement. But what did he think of the crowd that night?
"I don't know. You'll have to judge your crowd," he said. "I don't notice the crowd, you know, I'm out there coaching. I'm sure they yelled a lot, like any crowd."
In an ideal world (at least, ideal for me), I'd have the industry clout and confidence to ask a couple of follow-up questions as to the sincerity of that answer, maybe even explore an opponent coach's perspective on what is locally considered an almost shockingly resurgent fan base.
But I didn't get that.
Instead, I got a quote from a coach who just lost a game many picked for him to win, against a team that's not supposed to be in the playoffs, in an Arena few thought would sell out consistently. And here Popovich is that, not only must I judge my crowd (as if they were cheering for me) but that he didn't notice it. This although most of the media members I talked to New Orleans, San Antonio and national media alike agreed that Saturday night's crowd was at its loudest, and meanest, of the season.
The "Sea of Gold" probably had a lot to do with it; nothing gets people riled up like free merchandise. But I'm willing to bet that many fans had taken advantage of the late tip-off to enjoy Jazz Fest and/or some pre-game refreshments. Free shirts, some concert/booze-induced buzzed, combined with a lingering memory of Bruce Bowen kicking Chris Paul, made up for a vocal, unforgiving crowd. How else could you explain how they jeered both Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen as they went down after hard fouls and lay in pain on the court?
But, apparently, none of that matters to Popovich. Of course, the goal for all visiting players and coaches in the playoffs is to try to block out the raucous home crowd. But there's a difference in ignoring a crowd and saying that you didn't notice the crowd. Not noticing the crowd would indicate that either 1) the crowd wasn't loud/raucous enough, 2) the crowd didn't play a significant factor in the game or 3) you're blind and deaf.
If you want to argue that option 1 is the case, then I'll argue you're not a sane human being. As for the second scenario, well, I give you some Hornets quotes on the matter:
"I come out to shoot before the game tonight and I saw it and, D-West commented too, we never seen anything like it. I think it was great for our fans, the crowd and it really energized us." - Chris Paul
I came out of the locker room and I was like Oof [mimicking goose bumps on his arms], I had a little extra pep in the step. - Julian Wright
"The Arena looks better in all gold, it's a good look." - Tyson Chandler
Note that, in his opening statement, Popovich said that the Hornets "outplayed and out-hustled" the Spurs and "played harder." Aside from eliminating scenario 3 (after all, Popovich must've seen and heard his players getting beat up and down the floor), this suggests that Popovich is willing to acknowledge that the Hornets played with more energy that the Spurs, but he's not willing to say whether the crowd contributed any of that energy.
Let's just light this stick of dynamite and chuck it. Hornets fans: Greg Popovich didn't want to acknowledge your presence after game 1. What are you going to do about it for Game 2?