It happened around the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Popovich paced up and down the sidelines, clearly irate by the vast lead the defending champion Golden State Warriors had amassed on the San Antonio Spurs. What seemingly looked like a blatant travel by the visiting team was ignored by the ref, and Pop lost it. He shouted an explicative at the official and was promptly tossed from the game.
“See you’re trying to get me in trouble,” Popovich said when asked how he thought the game was officiated. “It’s my money not yours. So I’m just going to ignore your question.”
With a mischievous grin, he leaned forward, cupping his hand over his mouth and whispered:
“I didn’t like it.”
The outburst perfectly encapsulated the Spurs frustrations, dropping four out of their last five games after an undefeated start. The loss to the Warriors was excusable, especially since Popovich referred to them as “the best team in the world,” and falling to the Kyrie lead Boston Celtics makes sense considering their playoff predestination, but defeats to the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers — franchises apparently in rebuild mode — have fans anxiously checking their calendars and awaiting the return of injured superstar Kawhi Leonard.
With him, San Antonio still has the potential of a Western Conference Finals berth and maybe beyond; the Spurs were leading the Warriors by close to 20 on Friday, but like the foreshadowing of last year’s Game One, San Antonio slowly sacrificed the lead without Leonard. On the defensive side of the floor, the Spurs have choked up 107.8 points per game in their losses and 103.9 points overall — their highest point total since the 2010-11 season, when they fell in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Whether you win a game or lose a game, its a game of mistakes.” Popovich said. “Both teams have missed turnovers and missed shots. There’s bad decisions: passes that should be made are made; shots that shouldn’t be shot are shot.”
San Antonio seemed to have gotten back on track in the second game of their back-to-back with a win against the Charlotte Hornets last night, despite missing three players. Through the last five games, LaMarcus Aldridge has continued his season resurgence, leading the team with an average 19.8 points and 8.2 rebounds during that span. The bench — always a bright spot in the Popovich era — managed a total of 63 points against the Hornets, a vast improvement from the 35.6 the unit averaged in defeats.
With the Charlotte win, coach Popovich equals Phil Jackson’s mark on the all-time wins list with 1,155 victories. An easy one against the Phoenix Suns Sunday will put the veteran San Antonio HC at No. 6 on the list.
“You win, you lose, you go home,” Popovich said. “If you win, you do it with grace. If you lose, you try to do it with grace.”