Gregg Popovich

San Antonio Spurs rolling but Austin Spurs are real bright spot

The San Antonio Spurs are one of the hottest teams in the NBA as of late. Winners of 11 of their last 13 games, the Spurs look to be once again one of the powerhouses in the league, and, a championship contender.

While most of the focus recently has been on this San Antonio team, basketball enthusiasts should actually be putting their attention on the Spurs D-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs.

Since the San Antonio Spurs purchased the D-League franchise, the Austin based team has become a model for other NBA teams on how to successfully operate what is essentially a minor league basketball team.

While under the San Antonio Spurs ownership for the past seven, going on eight seasons, the Austin Spurs have posted a winning percentage greater than .600 five times. The franchise has also won one D-League title during that time span.

The amazing part is that all this winning has not completely been a function of players just wanting to come to play for a team run by the San Antonio Spurs. It’s also the willingness of players from the parent team to come up to Austin to develop their game.

Four players on the San Antonio’s current roster have had D-League experience, Kyle Anderson Austin Daye, Danny Green, and Cory Joseph. Two of those players, Green and Joseph, are playing significant roles for the team. One of those, Green, is in the starting five.

The work San Antonio has done to integrate the D-League franchise into their organization has been fantastic. They have been able to get everyone in the organization to buy in on how valuable a tool the Austin team is.

In fact, last season, Cory Joseph actually asked San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich to be assigned to the D-League team.

“Can I go back to the D-League?” Joseph told nba.com.

The request was odd, especially considering most NBA players experience negative emotions and thoughts when asked to serve in the minor league for basketball.

Players never want to be sent down, nonetheless ask to. Even Popovich was surprised by the decision.

“You don’t get that kind of a request,” Popovich said.

Nevertheless Popovich agreed and the run in the D-League seems to be doing wonders for Joseph’s NBA career.

Getting the players on-board is just one side of the equation though. The other side, and often equally ignored, is understanding the rules of the D-League and how assignments work.

What makes the Austin team so special is that San Antonio has a mastery on the rules of the D-League and knows how to put it to good use.

This offseason, San Antonio brought in five players on non-guaranteed contracts into training camp. They ended up waiving all five, which was not surprising considering the team already had 15 players under guaranteed contract.

While a move to bring in those five players when they were going to be waived may seem perplexing to the casual fan, to the San Antonio organization it is regarded as a smart move.

By waiving those five players before the start of the season, San Antonio was allowed to assign three of those players to their Austin franchise.

That understanding of the D-League is so valuable, especially in a league where the talent gap is small and any little advantage can make the world of a difference.

These two points are not the only things that make this Austin Spurs team so special. There are numerous reasons that serve evidence as to why this franchise is so great such as the team having former NBA players as coaches, former NBA front office men handling the team’s basketball operations, and much more.

The San Antonio Spurs are having another great season and they have the Austin Spurs to thank for quite a bit of that success. The Austin team has put a big stamp on this NBA organization from developing players to having some of their front office guys move up to San Antonio.

San Antonio might be rolling right now, but, the biggest bright spot of this organization just might be their D-League affiliate.

San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter goes to the basket against the Miami Heat in the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami on Thursday. The Spurs won 107-86.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Larry W. Smith | Daily Texan Staff

This summer the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth NBA championship, crushing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals four games to one. The 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs are one of the great championship teams in NBA history, and their recent victory further solidified the Spurs as perhaps the best franchise in professional sports. This year’s team also personified the sacrifice of individual acclaim for a greater goal, a characteristic increasingly rare in athletics, which, even on the collegiate level, focus on profit today.

The Spurs avenged last year’s devastating loss to the Heat in the NBA Finals. In Game Six of the 2013 series, the Spurs were on the verge of winning a championship, up by 5 points with 28 seconds left, before a series of errors and miraculous plays by Miami cost them the game. Two days later the Heat won the 2013 NBA crown in Game Seven. It was an absolutely gut-wrenching defeat for Spurs players, coaches and fans, the type of loss that could set a franchise back for years. But the Spurs entered the 2013-2014 season refusing to feel sorry for themselves. In training camp, head coach Gregg Popovich showed the team the film from the 2013 Finals and urged the players to use the loss as motivation for the upcoming season.

And use it they did. The Spurs stressed teamwork over individual performances. The Spurs finished the regular season with the league’s best record, and Popovich won NBA Coach of the Year. Throughout the season and playoffs, the team employed a playing system based on crisp passing, excellent three-point shooting and brilliantly-executed fundamental basketball skills. In the NBA Finals, the Spurs completely dismantled the Miami Heat, with each victory coming by at least 15 points. For his superb play, Kawhi Leonard, a third-year player for the Spurs, was named the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals. Heat players themselves praised the Spurs.  Chris Bosh, the Heat’s center, exclaimed after the series: “They played the best basketball I’ve ever seen.” LeBron James, the Heat’s Forward and team captain, similarly described San Antonio: “It’s all for the team and it’s never about the individual. That’s the brand of basketball, and that’s how team basketball should be played.”

The Spurs, with their consistent winning and class, are widely considered the model franchise in the NBA, and indeed, one of the best in all of professional sports. Popovich, who played college basketball at the Air Force Academy, is a brilliant tactician who runs his team with military precision while embracing a family-like atmosphere. R. C. Buford, the Spurs’ unassuming general manager, along with Popovich, has a knack for scouting basketball talent around the globe.  (Buford was named the NBA’s top executive this season.)

The Spurs have benefited from having gifted basketball players with selfless personalities on their roster over the years. The team and its players are beloved in the Alamo City and often participate in service events throughout the region, much like UT student athletes do in Austin. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hall of Famer George “The Iceman” Gervin, James Silas and UT alum Johnny Moore introduced basketball to San Antonio. In 1989, David Robinson began his Hall of Fame career with the Spurs and achieved much success in the ‘90s with teammates Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson. Not until the arrival of Popovich in late 1996 and Tim Duncan in 1997, however, did the Spurs reach their full potential. Robinson and Duncan formed the “Twin Towers,” using their size to dominate the low post, and won the franchise’s first NBA championship in 1999. The duo won the title again in 2003 in Robinson’s final year, aided by newcomers Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen. The Spurs also captured NBA championships in 2005 and 2007. Both the franchise and its players have demonstrated great loyalty to one another. The front office rarely makes blockbuster trades, contributing to a sense of stability in the organization, and Spurs superstars frequently take pay cuts to allow more cap room for the team to spend on free agents who help the team compete for championships.

An individual-first attitude plagues professional sports today. Money too often drives athletes and team owners. Players frequently seem more concerned with earning riches than winning championships. Management seldom exhibits loyalty to athletes, as players suffer the uncertainty of trades and being cut from the team. Owners likewise appear most interested in the bottom line, and are not opposed to moving franchises to other cities if more profits can be made. These negative attributes in professional sports unfortunately can make fans cynical. The issue of money also has become controversial in college sports, as debate rages over whether or not student athletes should be paid for their part in helping university athletic departments make historic profits. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that student-athletes at Northwestern University could form a union. UT possesses the wealthiest athletic department in the country, and will have a major voice in future discussions about paying college athletes.

Because of the individual-first attitude in professional sports today, it is immensely satisfying to see the San Antonio Spurs rewarded for their team-centered excellence. The 2013-2014 Spurs team deserved this championship for so many reasons. Hard work, talent, game execution and redemption from last year’s brutal defeat, yes, but mostly because the players, coaches, and entire organization conduct themselves with professionalism, loyalty and class that make the Spurs the model NBA franchise.  With hall of fame veteran leadership and emerging stars like Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are in good shape for the future. Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs for an amazing championship season and for conducting themselves in a manner that reminds fans how truly great sports can be when individuals sacrifice for a greater team goal.

Briscoe is a history graduate student from Carrizo Springs.

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard was a non-factor in the first two games of the 2014 NBA Finals, but Leonard put his stamp on the series with a dominating performance in game three.

Leonard was aggressive all night as he worked his way to a career performance. Leonard put together the best shooting performance of his NBA career Tuesday night, shooting 10-13 from the field and finishing with 29 points, leading the Spurs to a 111-92 victory over the Miami Heat.

“(Leonard) was just himself,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s how he’s played all year long. He’s got to be one of our better players on the court or we’re not good enough, that’s just the way it is.”
While Leonard was fantastic, the Spurs team play was phenomenal. San Antonio shot a historic 25-33 in the first half, building a 20-point lead by halftime.

But Miami wasn’t ready to give up. The Heat put on a furious rally in the third quarter, led by guard Dwyane Wade, cutting the Spurs lead to seven. While Miami continued to battle, it couldn’t find a way to overcome San Antonio’s historic performance in the half. With the Heat loss, their perfect home record in the playoffs was ruined.

“They were very aggressive, and we didn’t match that,” Miami forward LeBron James said. “They came in with a desperation that we just didn’t match. Just because it’s our fourth final doesn’t mean anything. That don’t guarantee a win.”

James was sensational in game two, but was less effective in game three as San Antonio found a way to disrupt his rhythm. Once the Spurs were able to get James off his game, the rest of the Miami offense struggled.

Now Miami must focus on getting back in the series before they head back to San Antonio.

"The problem is we are down 2-1. That's the problem,” Wade said. “We have to figure out how to even it up."

The Heat will get a chance to tie it up in game four, which occurs 8 p.m. Thursday in Miami.

This is the fourth edition in my series previewing the seasons of NBA teams with former Texas Longhorns players.  

So far I have previewed the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Denver Nuggets, the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. Today I am breaking down the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 58-24, lost 4-3 in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat    

Longhorn Player: Cory Joseph, PG

There were a few moving parts for the Spurs this offseason. Head coach Gregg Popovich lost two star assistant coaches in Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown, who left to take the head coaching jobs with the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. I don’t expect these losses to phase Popovich, who is no stranger to major transitions on the bench. He had no trouble sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, despite Mike Brown, another of his former assistants, coaching the Cavaliers in that series.

Despite being the Western Conference’s best team last season, San Antonio had a nice chunk of change to spend this offseason. I am not convinced the Spurs spent it as wisely as they could have. The Spurs resigned center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal, as well as longtime core member Manu Ginobili to a two-year, $14 million contract. That price is right for Ginobili, who has shown he is still one of the most versatile guards in the league. Not so much for Splitter — the Spurs likely had to overpay for him out of fear of losing their developing project. He is not worth more per year than Ginobili, even at 36.  

But the name of the game in San Antonio has always been consistency. In that sense, the Spurs excelled this summer.

The Spurs did lose pesky three-point specialist Gary Neal to the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency, but they quickly signed another perimeter weapon in former Chicago Bull Marco Belinelli. He gives San Antonio much more size and length, as well as more efficient shooting. He lacks athleticism and Neal’s speed, but it is important to remember that he will be on the second unit. His job is to knock down open threes, and he will do that very well, as he always has.  

Aside from all of that, the championship core remains intact. This is the number one reason the Spurs might have extended their title window by a couple years. Kawhi Leonard has all-star potential, and is becoming a more complete offensive player each year. Tony Parker is still one of the league’s top five, possibly top three point guards. Tim Duncan had a 10-year flashback last season, and Ginobili’s play merited his new contract. Danny Green had an unbelievable NBA Finals debut last season, and will return this season.

Once again the bench is deep and productive, benefited by Popovich’s plug-and-play system that allows anyone to step in and maximize his ability. That unit is headlined by former Texas Longhorn Cory Joseph, who will be Parker’s primary backup, Belinelli, swingman Boris Diaw, sharpshooter Matt Bonner and the slight but explosive Australian guard Patty Mills. You can count on this bench to hold its place among the league’s top five in production. Bottom Line: There isn’t really a weakness with this Spurs team. It will allow its fair share of points to one of the most impressive western conferences in league history, but it can still outgun quite a few teams. If Duncan can continue to drink from the fountain of youth and Parker and Ginobili stay healthy — 70 games or more — this team has a chance to win the West again. Additionally, it can expect Leonard and Splitter to continue their development and increase their nightly contributions.

In an always-brutal Western Conference that will be a notch tougher this season, I’ll give the Spurs 57 wins — one fewer than last year. Depending on the matchups in the conference finals, I can see them going to the NBA Finals again. If they run into the Golden State Warriors or the Los Angeles Clippers, they’ll have a tough time. Anyone else — see you in June.  

A mid-season report on the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks

At the mid-point of an NBA season, uncertainties tend to become certainties, questions tend to get answers, and teams tend to settle into a relative standard of playing level. In general, the identities of teams begin to coalesce. This traditional expectation applies fruitfully to the San Antonio Spurs. However, the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are still in a nebulous zone, far from forming their identity, realizing their potential, and meeting that baseline expectation for mid-season.

At this point, the San Antonio Spurs embody the persona of a championship contender. Anything less than that would be to underestimate the potent Spurs offense and Popovich’s genius. The Spurs (36-11) currently stand at the apex of the Western Conference standings and scream contender status on a daily basis. The elite point guard play of Tony Parker, the resurgence of the greatest power forward Tim Duncan ever, and a top 5 supporting cast makes the Spurs seem invincible year in and year out. Currently boasting seven players averaging nine points or more ( Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard), the Spurs rarely depend on the same players to step up on a nightly basis. The sharing of responsibility, the culture instilled by the Spurs system, and the wealth of supporting talent explicates how the Spurs put up consistent wins despite the occasional absence of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. At this point during the season, the Spurs know who they are and what they want. They are a clear-cut contender.

The Houston Rockets (24-22) currently stand at the eighth position in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets show flashes of brilliance and the potential their team holds. However, their playing style is often plagued by their inexperience and inconsistency. One thing is for sure though; the Rockets have their franchise foundation piece in James Harden. Harden is on his way to becoming the NBA’s best shooting guard, fortifying his relentless athleticism with his experiences as the number one option. The Rockets know they go as Harden goes. However, with the average age of the Houston Rockets roster around 24, they still have a long maturation process to undergo before realizing their true potential and identity.

Although they have recently won six of last eight, the Dallas Mavericks (19-25) lack any sort of identity of consistency. With 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki still trying to find his Hall of Fame form and missing the All Star Game for the first time in over a decade, the Mavericks have been in a state of fluctuation and confusion. They lead the league with 17 different starting lineups. Over the past three games, they have had three different starting centers. Nevertheless, Rick Carlisle has mentioned that he is attempting to establish a more consistent lineup and rotation. Once Dirk Nowitzki encapsulates the superstar style of play he is capable of, Darren Collison and OJ Mayo begin to produce on a more consistent basis, and the team commits to defense, the Mavericks have a chance to make a late-season surge for the playoffs.

When the Spurs step on to the court at this point of the season, you know what you’re going to get. However, the same cannot be stated for the Rockets and the Mavericks. As Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” With the Mavericks and Rockets, you just never know. 

Tim Duncan (21) high-fives center DeJuan Blair (45) in a recent game. The Spurs and the Thunder are in contention for the top playoff seed in the West.

Photo Credit: Austin Laymance | Daily Texan Staff

The San Antonio Spurs are the team to beat in the NBA’s Western Conference.

Sure, the Oklahoma City Thunder are loaded with young talent, the Dallas Mavericks are the defending champions and the Los Angeles Lakers have five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, but the Spurs have depth.

And Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s bunch is hungry after last season’s embarrassing exit in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

San Antonio has quietly jumped to the top of the Western Conference, fighting the Thunder for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, which begin April 28.

“We love our position [in the West], obviously,” center Tim Duncan told reporters Tuesday. “We hope to hold on to it. We’re facing a tough schedule, but we’re feeling good and we’re staying healthy.”

Health is paramount for the Spurs, who could care less about seeding.

“We won [61] games last year. Remember we lost right away. One would think that maybe it doesn’t matter,” Popovich said when asked about the importance of getting the top seed.

The Spurs are a far different team than they were a season ago, because their bench is among the league’s best.

Rookie swingman Kawhi Leonard plays and defends multiple positions. Forwards Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair are each a force in the paint. Matt Bonner is a 3-point specialist with size. Gary Neal scores in bunches. Patrick Mills goes baseline to baseline in a flash.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Spurs got more help at the trade deadline.

Boris Diaw looks reborn after coming over from the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, and Stephen Jackson hasn’t skipped a beat in his return to the team he won an NBA Championship in 2003.

Jackson started the year with Milwaukee before being acquired March 15. He’s a proven champion with a repuatation for being a tough guy.

“He’s got an edge to him,” Popovich said. “I like his edge; I like his toughness, his grit, his willingness to play in big situations. All those sorts of things are what I like.”

The Spurs lacked Jackson’s toughness a year ago as the Grizzlies muscled San Antonio out of the playoffs. That won’t happen again with Jackson in the fold. He’s a fearless competitor notorious for his role in the infamous 2004 brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indianapolis Pacers.

“I’m all about my team,” Jackson said. “Whatever it takes to protect my teammates, to be with my teammates, I’m going to ride it to the end. That’s all I know.”

The Spurs don’t have the flash of the run-and-gun Thunder or the glamour of “Lob City” and the Los Angeles Clippers.

What they do have is a veteran corps led by four NBA champions, a seasoned coach and a deep bench full of rising stars and castaways with something left to prove.

San Antonio has never won an NBA title in an even-numbered year, but all that could change come June.

Printed on Thursday, April 19, 2012 as: Ageless Spurs continue to roll
 

NBA Notebook

Gregg Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs continue to defy the “old” label they are often shouldered with. The Spurs are in second place in the Western Conference and are third in the league in scoring.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

If the NBA season were to end today, every Texas team would have a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The tried-and-true San Antonio Spurs, young Houston Rockets and reigning champion Dallas Mavericks are all among the top-eight teams in the West, but each is dealing with its own set of issues as the playoffs draw nearer.

Popovich managing Spurs carefully in crunch time

Don’t call them old. Only Gregg Popovich can do that.

Despite officially listing the reason aging star, Tim Duncan, didn’t play against Philadelphia last week is because he’s “old,” Popovich’s squad is doing what it does best — winning. The Spurs were one of the teams that were predicted to falter this season because of the compressed 66-game schedule. However, the Spurs are the West’s second-best team that no one is talking about.

“It’s a little bit more difficult than the normal season,” Popovich said before the game of managing minutes. “We’ve always played our guys less than most teams, so it’s a little bit more emphasis than usual.”

San Antonio is the third best scoring team in the league and it is currently enjoying an eight-game win streak after routing Cleveland 125-90 last night. Popovich has had to strategically divvy minutes among his players to keep veterans like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan off the floor when they don’t need to be there. And the strategy is working. The old-reliable crew has kept its numbers on par with their career statistics and the Spurs continue to cash in wins like they have for the last decade.

Tuesday night kicked off a 16-game-in-23-days stretch to finish the shortened season. As the playoffs draw closer, the second-place Spurs will likely rest their starters more often to keep them fresh for a deep playoff run. Parker, Ginobili and Duncan each played less than 23 minutes Tuesday against the Caveliers, but they still all had +/- ratings above 16.

Rockets trying to stay in rarefied air

As has been the case for the last two seasons, the Houston Rockets are in contention for a low-seed in the playoffs. Currently gasping for air with a one-game lead over the ninth place Utah Jazz, the Rockets are a league anomaly.

The third-best team in the state beat some of the best teams in the league as well as lost to some of the worst. In March, the Rockets beat the Thunder in an improbable come-from-behind victory over the West’s best Oklahoma City Thunder. On Monday, the Rockets beat the East’s best team, the Chicago Bulls. However, they’ve been prone to losing to teams such as Phoenix, Toronto and Minnesota.

Lately, the Rockets have gotten the job done without their best players Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin. Lowry should return soon, but he is still dealing with a bacterial infection, while Martin is nursing a right shoulder injury that will see him miss more time.

For Houston to ensure at least the eight seed, it will need to play mentally tough on the road, something it hasn’t done particularly well this season. The Rockets are a 9-17 on the road with seven of their next 12 games being played away from home.

“I never understood that,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said as he tried to explain his team’s road woes. “Baskets are 10 feet high and the court’s 94 feet. I’ve never seen a fan score a point yet.”

Mavericks still searching for that championship swagger

Whatever magic Dallas conjured up last year, it’ll need to do it again. The Mavericks may be playing better ball and hold the third seed in the West, but they look nothing like the inspired championship team from 2011.

Dallas has been inconsistent this season, winning games it has the sheer talent to beat, but faltering against younger, quicker squads. The Mavs dropped their latest contest against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. They only scored 75 points to the Clippers’ 94, and head coach Rick Carlisle thought his team looked lethargic.

“No, it wasn’t very good,” Carlisle said after watching Monday’s game film. “We’re going to have to do a lot better [today against Memphis]. Breakdowns, and it really began with turnovers and transition defense. We’ve got to pick it up.”

The Mavericks have the old-school pieces in place to surprise everybody in the playoffs though, and if Carlisle can get them focused and running the floor, he thinks the team can get back to that elite level.

“Our awareness has got to be better,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to do to things hard, we’ve got to do things efficiently, we’ve got to do things well and we have a higher level and we’re going to get to it.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 as: Texas' NBA teams all occupy playoff spots

Tony Parker appreciates San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich’s conservation plan.

During this condensed NBA season, Parker said Popovich is rarely allowing anyone to play more than 40 minutes, a strategy that contributed to the Spurs’ 89-84 victory Monday night over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Parker, playing 36 minutes, scored 21 points, and Tim Duncan added 19 points and a season-high 17 rebounds in 32 minutes.

“I think Pop tries to keep us fresh,” Parker said. “It’s rare that me, or anyone, plays 40 minutes. Over the course of the season, if you have to play 38 or 40 minutes a game, it’s tough. It takes its toll.”

Memphis, minus Zach Randolph indefinitely and Tony Allen the past two games, was forced to use starters Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley for 40-plus minutes. Gasol had 22 points to lead the Grizzlies, while Conley scored 19 and Gay 18.

Gay said the Grizzlies, who lost their third straight, expended their energy fighting back from a 14-point first-half deficit to take a six-point lead entering the final quarter.

“It was tough,” Gay said. “A couple of guys were fatigued from playing a lot of heavy minutes. It was one of those games that slipped away from us.”

The Grizzlies were outscored 22-11 in the fourth quarter. The 11 points represented a season low for a single quarter.

“We made some shots and got some stops [to rally],” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “Then in the fourth quarter, we couldn’t make a shot anymore.”

Memphis didn’t have an answer for Duncan in the second half. He scored 13 of his points after the half as the Spurs opened a nine-game road trip with a win, their fifth straight. The Grizzlies led 73-67 entering the final period, but missed their first nine shots to allow the Spurs to recover and take an 87-81 lead with 1:18 to go.

Duncan also had two key blocks in the closing minute as the Spurs clung to an 87-84 lead. He first blocked Gay’s layup attempt with 32 seconds left and followed with a block of Gasol’s close-range attempt 10 seconds later.

“He is somebody who is pretty special,” Popovich said. “The blocks were pretty good down the stretch. Those kinds of things are what he does.”

Parker said Duncan has been playing at a high level recently. It was Duncan’s second straight double-double. He had 13 points and 15 rebounds Saturday in a win over Oklahoma City.

“He’s feeling good,” Parker said. “His knee is doing well. Hopefully, he can stay like that. That’s a great game from Timmy — 19 [points] and 17 [rebounds].”

The Grizzlies trailed by 13 at 61-48 early in the third quarter, but rallied behind a 25-6 run to end the period. Memphis took its first lead of the second half, at 66-63, on O.J. Mayo’s 3-pointer with 2:11 to go in the third quarter.

Hitting five of seven 3-pointers in the first half, San Antonio led by as many as 14 late in the second quarter. Matt Bonner and Gary Neal connected on two 3-pointers apiece and Kawhi Leonard had the other.