Tim Duncan couldn’t remember the last time he was healthy and played only 12 minutes in a game.
The way San Antonio coach Greg Popovich has the final two weeks of the season mapped out, Duncan may need to get used to it.
Duncan scored 13 points in his shortest night of work this season, Tiago Splitter added 15 points and eight rebounds and the Spurs beat the Golden State Warriors 120-99 on Monday night to move into the top spot in the Western Conference.
”We understood the situation, we got the comfortable lead and Pop made the call,” Duncan said of his brief appearance. ”It was the right call. Our main focus is to be healthy and have our legs.”
Duncan took only eight shots in the game and never took his warmup pullover off in the second half, part of Popovich’s plan to keep his starters fresh for the postseason.
It was the second straight game in which San Antonio’s Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili spent more time on the bench than on the court.
Popovich said before the game he was more concerned with his team’s health than he was in trying to get a better seeding in the West, especially with the Spurs playing the first of three games in three nights.
Parker (eight points, five assists) and Ginobili (12 points) joined Duncan on the bench in the second half when the Spurs led by as many as 32 points.
”Trying to win is part of it, trying to stay healthy is part of it,” said Popovich, who called this his deepest team ever in San Antonio. ”That’s got to be our main concern, not positioning.”
Gary Neal added 17 points for the Spurs, winners of 17 of their last 20. San Antonio moved percentage points ahead of Oklahoma City in the race for the No. 1 seed in the West. The Thunder lost 92-77 to the Los Angeles Clippers.
”We’re in the run for it,” Duncan said. ”We’re going to do our best to try to win the West but it’s not going to break our hearts if we don’t. We want to be healthy more than anything.”
Nate Robinson had a season-high 30 points and Klay Thompson scored 29 for Golden State, which has lost 14 straight to San Antonio.
Duncan and Parker started but went to the bench late in the first quarter after San Antonio scored 14 straight points to take a comfortable lead.
It helped that the Spurs were playing a Golden State team that is limping to the finish.
The short-handed Warriors, who became the first team in more than nine years to start four rookies, didn’t put up much of a fight in losing their fifth straight.
Already without injured point guard Stephen Curry for the past month, Golden State played without starting forward David Lee (strained groin, stress fracture), center Andris Biedrins (mild concussion) and backup forward Richard Jefferson (knee). That forced coach Mark Jackson to start all three of the team’s draft picks this year along with reserve center, Mickell Gladness, who was originally signed to a 10-day contract in late March.
”It was unique,” Thompson said. ”We were trying to make the most of it.”
San Antonio led by 15 points at the end of the first quarter and was ahead 51-30 early in the second before Golden State’s best run of the game nearly cut the gap in half and forced Popovich to put Duncan and Parker back in.
Duncan quickly made a layup and two long jumpers, Parker added two free throws and the Spurs went up 70-49 at halftime.
Even with most of the starters back the bench, San Antonio continued to pull away in the second half.
Neal, Danny Green and Matt Bonner made consecutive 3s to make it 80-55. Two free throws by Patty Mills later pushed the Spurs lead to 94-62.
Green finished with 11 points and five rebounds, one of six San Antonio players in double figures.
Notes: It’s the first time in franchise history that the Warriors have started four rookies in a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau which has been tracking the stat since the 1970-71 season. The Denver Nuggets were the last NBA team to do it when they started four against Orlando on March 9, 2003. … The Warriors signed veteran C Mikki Moore for the remainder of the season. The 36-year-old Moore played in 23 games for Golden State in 2009-10 but was out of the NBA last season. … The Spurs haven’t lost to the Warriors since Jan. 7, 2008.