Gregg Popovich and the Spurs
hold a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. (Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)
SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
Which coach has done the best job this postseason?
Lee Jenkins: Doc Rivers, Clippers. Indiana's Frank Vogel deserves praise for rebuilding the psyche of a fragile team whose season easily could have disintegrated by now. But it's impossible not to choose Rivers, for insulating his players through the Donald Sterling fiasco, counseling distraught Clippers employees and becoming the steady voice of a turbulent franchise. No team has ever had a playoff run quite like these Clippers -- their owner banished in the middle of it for racist comments -- but outside of Game 4 at Golden State, they've proceeded at full speed. They finally looked fried Sunday, down 22 to Oklahoma City, but they rallied yet again behind two master strokes from Rivers. He put Chris Paul on Kevin Durant, despite the height differential, and inserted Darren Collison. Thanks to moves both strategic and psychological, the Clippers still stand.
Ben Golliver: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. Game 4 dud aside, I have to go with Popovich, whose Spurs succeeded in taking the wind out of the Blazers' sails after an emotional first-round series victory over the Rockets. San Antonio initially climbed to a 3-0 lead thanks to game-plan domination on both sides of the ball: The Spurs have made LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard work for everything and tightly marked the Blazers' shooters, Tony Parker has picked apart Portland's soft pick-and-roll defense and San Antonio's reserves have overpowered their counterparts. The Spurs began playing crisp, smart ball with their Game 7 win over Dallas, and they are now just one win away from another trip to the Western Conference finals. Now that's delivering on the Coach of the Year award.
Rob Mahoney: Rick Carlisle, Mavericks. His team might have been eliminated in the first round, but no coach has done a better job of covering for his team's limitations in the playoffs than Carlisle. If anything, this second round has made Carlisle's coaching performance in the first that much more impressive. After surviving an extended series against Dallas that was competitive virtually throughout (Game 7 excluded), San Antonio has demolished Portland in three of their four games in the second round. That contrast reflects rather well on a Mavericks team that exceeded every expectation in challenging the Spurs at the first place, whether by surviving some uncharacteristic off shooting nights from Dirk Nowitzki, scrambling (and in Carlisle's case, scheming) to defensive competence and more generally finding room to exploit an opponent without obvious weakness. From Game 1 Carlisle had his team ready to challenge the Spurs' Western Conference throne, and if the Mavs had made just a few more plays over the course of the series they might stand today as usurpers.
Matt Dollinger: Jason Kidd, Nets. Despite a 1-3 deficit in the second round, Kidd has impressed in his debut as a postseason coach. Kidd helped the Nets edge a third-seeded Toronto team that had home-court advantage. In the second round, he's gotten creative and unleashed a slew of funny-looking lineups. While unconventional (Andrei Kirilenko at center?!), they've kept the Heat off balance, particularly LeBron James, until his Game 4 explosion. Kidd did a commendable job during the season, helping the Nets bounce back from a 10-21 start and the loss of Brook Lopez. He's been able to extend that to the postseason and validate the team's decision to appoint him despite no coaching experience.
Chris Johnson: Doc Rivers, Clippers. It can be argued that Rivers is the right choice even if you discount any tactical adjustments he’s made during the Clippers’ postseason run. Rivers has kept his team on task despite the firestorm of controversy stemming from racist comments made by owner Donald Sterling and his subsequent banishment from the NBA. With a different coach calling the shots, there’s no telling how Los Angeles would have responded in such a volatile situation. Rivers’ ability to deftly manage a scandal that could have thrown many teams off course has not received due credit. Further, Rivers has capably led a team relatively light on playoff experience past Stephen Curry and the Warriors in the first round and to a 2-2 tie against Kevin Durant and the Thunder in the second. While other coaches may have performed better from the sidelines, Rivers and his team have endured a unique set of circumstances that deserve special consideration in this debate.
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