SAN ANTONIO (AP) The Spurs play a style that’s been described as boring and ugly at times, so it only made sense that they felt comfortable down the stretch against Charlotte in a game their own coach said was ”hard to watch.”
Tim Duncan had 17 points and 16 rebounds, and San Antonio overcame a sluggish start to beat the Bobcats 92-82 on Friday night. The Spurs clinched their 17th consecutive winning season, dating to Duncan’s first with the team.
Manu Ginobili scored 15 points, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills added 14 each and Kawhi Leonard had 12 for San Antonio (42-16).
”I’m really proud of how they hung in and realized it was a 48-minute game,” coach Gregg Popovich said. ”Manu didn’t have a good game for a while, but down the stretch he came through. He and Timmy, they executed well; Patty really well (and), obviously, Marco was a big help. Overall it was a hell of a win against a very good basketball team.”
Al Jefferson scored 20 points and former Spurs guard Gary Neal added 15 for Charlotte (27-31), which had its four-game winning streak snapped. Gerald Henderson scored 12 and Kemba Walker 11.
San Antonio had 19 turnovers, but only one in the final 6 minutes of the game. That helped the Spurs overcome a 14-point deficit in the first half.
”Fourteen points in this league is nothing,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. ”Especially against a team like that, that shoots the ball like that. I think the way you look at it, to me, is you want to have a chance on the road at the end of the game to win, which we did.”
There were three ties and two lead changes in the final 7 minutes as the Spurs celebrated Military Appreciation Night with camouflage uniforms.
Ginobili blocked Walker’s layup attempt and drew a charge on Jefferson on consecutive possessions. Duncan followed with a 15-foot jumper that gave San Antonio an 82-80 lead with 1:43 remaining.
Duncan then fired a pass to Belinelli in the right corner for a 3-pointer over Neal that gave the Spurs an 85-80 edge.
”We know (Neal’s) a bad defender. All he wants to do is shoot,” Duncan said, smiling afterward. ”We took advantage of that. Gary was great tonight, actually. He played hard, played well.”
Neal said he knew that play was coming off an inbounds set, but Duncan simply executed it well.
”I’ve made a couple of 3s like that from Timmy over the 207 games I played here,” Neal said. ”Tim is a Hall of Famer. He made a great play. That’s what he does. That’s why the Spurs are so successful.”
Duncan had six assists and shot 6 for 12 from the field, including 4 of 4 in the second half.
Ginobili later completed a three-point play after rolling in a left-handed layup from the right side of the rim just beyond the reach of Jefferson and Henderson to put San Antonio up 88-80.
The rally helped the Spurs wipe away a second straight sluggish start at home.
”It’s frustrating at times that we’re not able to come out of the gates and play the way we want to play night in and night out,” Duncan said. ”To play through the ups and downs and find a way to win a game like that is good for us.”
Charlotte led throughout the first half, extending its cushion to 34-20 with 8:26 remaining on three free throws by Anthony Tolliver. Showing the type of ball movement the Spurs are normally known for, the Bobcats had 15 assists on 19 first-half baskets.
San Antonio had only three assists early in the game, missing all but five of its first 17 shots while shooting 30 percent.
”It’s hard to watch, isn’t it?” Popovich said, laughing when a reporter responded that the game was ugly. ”Appreciate your honesty. The turnovers are how we dug a hole for ourselves in the first half. The only thing that kept us in the first half is we hit five 3s.”
Charlotte built its advantage with little help from Walker, the team’s second-leading scorer. He had only three points, going 1 for 8 from the field in the first half.
Ginobili’s 3-pointer gave the Spurs their first lead at 51-49 with 5:21 left in the third. His second 3 gave San Antonio a 64-57 advantage and brought a loud cheer from the sold-out crowd, which began buzzing in anticipation before he even released the ball.
”We made too many mistakes and we got away from our defensive principles,” Jefferson said. ”The one thing we know about San Antonio is you have to play 48 minutes because they are not going to stop what they’re doing.”
NOTES: With his 12th rebound, Duncan passed Hakeem Olajuwon (13,748) for 12th on the NBA’s career list. At 13,753 rebounds, Duncan is 16 shy of tying Wes Unseld for 11th. ”Obviously, I watched (Olajuwon) growing up playing and played against him for a little while,” Duncan said. ”I respect what he did throughout his career. It’s an honor.” … Neal and Duncan shook hands and hugged following a timeout with 4 minutes remaining after Duncan glared at his former teammate before giving a sly smile. … Spurs point guard Tony Parker sat behind the team’s bench as he continues to recover from a series of leg maladies that began before the All-Star break. … Charlotte C Brenden Haywood (broken left foot) and F Jeff Taylor (ruptured right Achilles) sat out.