Pop unmoved by tales of Rondo’s heroism

Much of the basketball-watching public was willing to cast Rajon Rajon’s return from a dislocated elbow in Boston’s Game 3 victory over Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals last week as his “Willis Reed moment.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, however, wasn’t one of them.

As the playoffs have progressed, Popovich — who had  star guard Manu Ginobili dealing with an elbow injury in the Spurs’ first-round ouster against Memphis — has been unmoved by the tall tales of Rondo’s heroism.

“It’s really been hard to watch the playoffs and have them make Rondo out like Willis Reed,” Popovich said Thursday, in wide-ranging interview with the Express-News. “It’s like, Manu couldn’t even play the first game (against Memphis), and we  probably shouldn’t have played him again. He went out there and worked through it, and you didn’t hear any of that kind of crap.”

Ginobili sprained his right elbow in the Spurs’ regular-season finale at Phoenix and was limited throughout the Memphis series, a turn of events Popovich believes played a prime role in the Spurs’ early ouster.  Ginobili averaged 20.6 points in five games against the Grizzlies.

“If Manu ain’t heathy, historically, we go nowhere,” Popovich said.  ”When he was hurt against Dallas (in 2009), they beat us. Last year, we  beat them in the first round, because Manu was healthy. Manu was half-assed one year against the Lakers (in 2008), or they don’t win three (Western Conference titles) in a row. His health is huge for us.”

Rondo was injured in the third quarter of Boston’s 97-81 victory over Miami on May 8, but returned to dish out 11 assists and score a pair of baskets in the fourth quarter. The Heat went on to win the series in five games.

Popovich says Ginobili should have  received similar kudos for laboring through a similar situation.

“It’s like Rondo is the next coming of Willis Reed, the thing he did and the character he showed,” Popovich said. “Maybe he did show character and  he was tough and all that, but it is no different than what  Manu did. That just kind of angers me on a selfish level, so to speak.”