Game 3 technically doesn't fit that category. But this was the closest thing, since no NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit. It was a closeout dry run, and the Spurs didn't pass the test.
"I was very disappointed that we didn't come out with more a foot-in-the-neck sort of an attitude," Popovich said. "They killed us on the boards, they beat us on 50/50 balls, and that's very disappointing to me."
It wasn't just the players. Popovich didn't exactly have a "Mortal Kombat" finishing-move playing rotation. With his team down seven at the start of the fourth quarter, he sent out a lineup with Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and Danny Green. Thunder coach Scott Brooks had Kevin Durant in with the veteran combination of Caron Butler and Derek Fisher he likes to use in the fourth quarter, along with Reggie Jackson and Steven Adams.
The more potent Thunder lineup scored the first seven points, effectively putting the game out of reach before Popovich sent Parker, Tim Duncan and Ginobili in for one last run. Popovich pulled the plug (and his stars) midway through the quarter, when the deficit had grown to 17.
Another ominous sign for the Spurs is that, as in 2012, it's Brooks and not Popovich making the impactful mid-series adjustments. Of course Ibaka's return was medical, not tactical. But Brooks also moved Jackson into the starting lineup ahead of Thabo Sefolosha. (What's worse: That Sefolosha and Nick Collison went from starting to picking up DNP-CDs, or that in doing so their combined scoring production dropped by only two points?)
Jackson used the additional playing time to pick up 15 points and five assists, and was plus-17 while he was in. "He did well, but again, I think that the difference in intensity was the biggest key, not X's and O's, particularly," Ginobili said. "When you see [52-36] on the boards and every loose ball was theirs and our .... lagging defensively, lack of awareness was a big difference."
It was the second time he used the word "lagging", which was a great description for San Antonio's play. He also said the Spurs couldn't "trot down the court" -- another perfect way to summarize the slower, ineffective pace the Spurs used.
Ginobili did more than just supply the vocabulary words; he also scored 20 first-half points to keep the Spurs in the game heading into halftime. But he faded in the second half, and went to the locker room early to get treatment on a sore left foot.
"He'll be fine," Popovich said. "Or he's out for the rest of the playoffs."
It was a swipe at the dramatic reversal in Ibaka's prognosis -- "You've still got to have some fun even if you lose," Popovich said to the laughing media gallery.
So Pop hasn't lost his sense of humor. That aspect of his personality is still intact. The problem for the Spurs is, so is their penchant for letting series last longer than they should.