Spurs’ Gregg Popovich ties Nelson for NBA career wins record
SAN ANTONIO — Gregg Popovich tied Don Nelson’s NBA record with his 1,335th career victory as a coach in the San Antonio Spurs’ 117-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.
Popovich chose to ignore the achievement, as he has many others during his illustrious 26-year tenure leading San Antonio. He didn’t mention it to players after the victory, and he didn’t take any questions about the record during a brief, three-question session with reporters after.
“You guys know Pop,” San Antonio center Jakob Poeltl said. “I don’t think he really cares about stuff like that. It didn’t even really get mentioned. I doubt it will get mentioned when we get the next win. It’s just how he is.”
Popovich will try to pass Nelson when San Antonio hosts the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.
“It’s hard to put into words how much of an impact he’s had on the Spurs organization, USA Basketball and basketball in general,” Spurs guard Josh Richardson said.
The only difference between this record-tying game and any previous was the 73-year-old Popovich’s decision to get a little physical with players prior to the game.
“He was trying to get us to play a little bit more aggressive,” Poeltl said. “In these last few games, we’ve been pretty soft on defense. Shootaround this morning was a little bit more intense. I think that was just him trying to get a message across. He was pushing guys around, and then it kind of ended up in a huddle mosh-pit situation.”
San Antonio needed the jolt, even with the struggling Lakers without LeBron James.
The Spurs had lost four straight with Popovich on the precipice of matching the record, and they were in danger of extending that skid with a late collapse as James sat the game out with a sore left knee.
Dejounte Murray had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Poeltl and Richardson each had 18 points. Richardson was making his first start with San Antonio.
Talen Horton-Taylor had 18 points to lead Los Angeles, and Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony added 17 points each.
Popovich has five NBA titles and is a lock for enshrinement in the NBA Hall of Fame after a career in which he’s coached Spurs greats including David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Robinson sat courtside Monday, and Popovich jokingly told him to check into the game during a time.
These aren’t the same Spurs from Robinson’s prime. San Antonio is 25-40, already assured of a third straight losing season after 22 consecutive finishes over .500. Monday’s game nearly got away, too.
The Lakers pulled within 108-105 on Horton-Taylor’s jumper with 5:40 left, and the Spurs were scoreless for nearly four minutes before Poeltl’s free throw with 37.4 seconds left. Los Angeles never got closer than three, though.
“The just played a little smarter than us down the stretch,” LA guard Malik Monk said.
The Lakers were without James and Anthony Davis. James was a late scratch Monday after scoring a season-high 56 points Saturday in a victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Los Angeles had lost four straight and seven of eight prior to James’ highest point total with the Lakers, which matched the third highest of his career.
“It’s kind of frustrating that we have a great win like we did against Golden State and Lebron’s knee is a little sore and he’s got to miss and we take a little step back,” Monk said. “We’ve got to do a better job and figure things out as a team when he’s out.”
It marked the eighth straight game that the Lakers have faced a double-digit deficit.
The Lakers remained in the game by cutting to the rim without the ball for open layups, drives to the basket and the Spurs’ poor free-throw shooting. San Antonio was 16 for 30 on free throws, including 6 for 14 in the third quarter.