Popovich praises 'clever' Rick Carlisle

SAN ANTONIO -- The eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks pushing the San Antonio Spurs to seven games served as a reminder that Rick Carlisle is among the league’s elite head coaches.

Just ask the man Carlisle calls the Coach of the Century.

“I am certainly glad it is over,” Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs’ Game 7 win Sunday. “It kept many of us up at night after night trying to figure those guys out. Rick did a great job with his game plan. His coaches confounded us. The players were great. It is a really good veteran team that was playing its best basketball here at the end of the year.

“I congratulate them. They were really tough and really good. The organization could be really proud of that group in a lot of ways.”

Carlisle’s creative defensive schemes caught the Spurs completely off guard early in the series. That allowed the Mavs to leave San Antonio with the series even after the first two games.

Popovich, the NBA Coach of the Year for the third time this season, eventually figured out all the smoke and mirrors. The Spurs’ offense hummed as usual in the latter stages of the series, but Carlisle’s coaching brilliance was one of the major factors in the Mavs making a competitive series out of what appeared to be a major mismatch.

“Rick Carlisle is one of the most clever guys around, and trying to follow all of his stuff is really difficult,” Popovich said. “That was the toughest part for us in addition to them playing so well.”