SAN ANTONIO >> LeBron James has it all wrong. Gregg Popovich is a people person.
“I like everybody,” the San Antonio Spurs coach said.
Sideline reporters might disagree, but that’s what Popovich said in response to James’ comments that the Spurs don’t like the Miami Heat.
Immediately after San Antonio beat Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals to set up the NBA Finals rematch with the Heat that begins Thursday, Tim Duncan said, “We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”
The Spurs nearly did it last year, but coughed up a five-point lead in the final half-minute of regulation of Game 6 before losing Game 7. The agony of that loss, San Antonio’s first in five trips to the finals, led James to surmise that the Spurs aren’t very fond of the Heat.
“They don’t like us. They don’t,” James said Monday in Miami. “I can sense it from Timmy’s comments over the last couple of days. . They want us, so they got us.”
The Spurs, whose demeanor and remarks are normally as plain as sandwich bread, were a bit taken aback by James’ reaction.
“Knowing Timmy, that’s not trash talking,” San Antonio’s Tony Parker said. “I don’t think he meant it like that. But obviously, we are very motivated and we want to get it done. At the same time, we realize we are playing a very good team that went to the final four times in a row and won the last two.”
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said the comment was taken completely out of context and “not a big deal at all.” He and Parker both said the Spurs have great respect for what the Heat have accomplished, having never made it to back-to-back NBA Finals until this season.
San Antonio did so after a rugged postseason run in the Western Conference, escaping a seven-game series with Dallas before closing out Portland in five games and Oklahoma City in six.
“Every time you play a team in the playoffs, you don’t like them,” Ginobili said. “That grows on you. It’s such a challenge, you want to beat them so bad that you start to grow that challenge of you don’t want the opponent to score on me, you don’t want them to do good. You want to do everything you can to limit them. In some ways it’s sort of dislike, but the same happened to me against Dallas and against Portland and against Oklahoma City. It’s part of what the playoffs are about.”
So any talk of dislike for a particular player or team was met with a glare.
“Are you really going to ask that?” Popovich said. “So somebody will say, ‘I don’t like him’ and the other guy, ‘So and so said they don’t like you.’ ‘Well, I don’t like him either.’ Come on, this is silly.”