Spurs survive Jazz for Popovich’s 900th win
AT&T CENTER–Walking into the San Antonio Spurs locker room following their 104-97 overtime victory against the Utah Jazz, the remnants of a brief post game celebration were readily apparent.
With chunks of cake all over the floor and a Gatorade jug of ice water around Tony Parker’s ankle, coach Gregg Popovich’s 900th victory would be celebrated with refreshments. The cake ended up on Stephen Jackson’s face, courtesy of Popovich. The ankle ended up fine, despite Parker putting 37 minutes of work in. The celebration was a surprise.
Asked before the game what his 900th victory would mean to him, Popovich promptly replied, “nothing.”
Over the course of 900 victories, it’s hard to determine which games stay with a coach, assuming not every one does. Through large stretches against the Jazz, the Spurs performance was hardly a memorable affair. Their trademark ball movement stagnated, garnering only 23 assists on their 39 field goals with 17 turnovers.
In many ways the Spurs and Jazz appeared to have caught a bout of March Madness, producing large stretches of regrettable play that culminated in an “exciting” finish. So when a reporter asked Popovich if this win was one the most stressful of the 900 on his resume, Popovich’s response–and the remnants of the cake on the locker room floor after–caught everyone off-guard.
“I thought it was a great game. I thought the guys fought hard,” Popovich said. “Utah is a team that’s trying to stay in the playoffs and they are really highly motivated.
“I thought we just grinded it out. We found some combinations that worked well, I thought a lot of people contributed to that. So it was a hell of a win, it was one of our better wins this year for a lot of reasons.”
One of those reasons was the return of point guard Tony Parker, Returning a week earlier than anticipated, but after a full week of practice, Parker played with no restrictions, providing 37 minutes, 22 points, and five assists.
His return was hardly smooth, as Popovich and Parker warned reintegrating with the team would take some time, as would the return of Parker’s conditioning.
“It was tough because I didn’t want to mess up the chemistry and we’ve been playing really good basketball at home,” Parker said. “I had to kind of fit in. In the second half Pop was calling plays for me and being aggressive, so it came natural.”
Parker scored 12 points over the stretch of the fourth quarter and overtime, shaking free for jumpers and his signature floaters.
Though the Spurs welcomed back their point guard and leader, they are still awaiting the return of the second half of their All-Star back court. Manu Ginobili continued his shooting slump (under 40 percent over the last ten games) while adding some ball control issues (five turnovers) and defensive breakdowns.
None of those mistakes were as costly as the last one in regulation. Up three points, Ginobili left a three-point shooter alone to cover Al Jefferson near the free throw line–a jumper the Spurs would have gladly surrendered given time and circumstances. The resulting rotational breakdowns left Marvin Williams open in the corner for the three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
“I don’t know what I was thinking to completely black out,” Ginobili said. “A terrible mistake. I’m disappointed. I’m sorry I let my teammates down. We could have lost the game and, hopefully, I don’t do it ever again.”
Ginobili atoned for his mistake somewhat, nailing a crucial corner three in overtime. Though distressed after the game, noting that such a mistake could possibly eliminate the Spurs come playoff time, Ginobili noted it was a win. And it was. One of 900 wins for the Spurs under head coach Gregg Popovich.
And so far as wins go, this one had cake.