SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs started the game minus an injured Tim Duncan and were soon without coach Gregg Popovich following a fiery ejection.
The Spurs needed an emotional and physical lift against the tenacious Minnesota Timberwolves, and they got it on the massive shoulders of 7-foot-3 rookie Boban Marjanovic.
Marjanovic scored 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting, helping San Antonio hold off Minnesota 101-95 on Monday night to remain undefeated at home.
"I feel happy because I am part of this win," Marjanovic said. "In the first half we played like, so-so, and in the second half much better and we showed we are a team. We showed in bad times that we can be a good team."
San Antonio joined the 1978 Portland Trail Blazers and 1986 Houston Rockets as the only Western Conference teams to open a season 18-0 at home.
Kawhi Leonard had 17 points and 11 rebounds, but his production was basically a wash as he battled Andrew Wiggins. Minnesota’s athletic guard had 18 points and six rebounds.
With Duncan sitting out due to a sore right knee and LaMarcus Aldridge limited to six points, the Spurs (27-6) needed another big man to step up and Marjanovic did.
He sparked two key runs, helping San Antonio extend its franchise-record home winning streak to 27 games dating to last season.
"Both stretches he impacted well," said Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, who took over for Popovich. "Not only with his game, that was a quality game, but also because he got the crowd involved, he got his teammates involved."
Minnesota raced out to an 18-6 lead by distributing the ball before San Antonio’s defense could fully set. Every Timberwolves starter had four points in the opening run except for Ricky Rubio, who had two points and five assists.
San Antonio was listless until Marjanovic sparked a 15-5 spurt bridging the first and second quarters.
The 290-pound center created a jump ball by standing over Gorgui Dieng with his arms outstretched and waiting for the 6-11 Dieng to jump and put the ball into his hands. Marjanovic won the ensuing jump ball, which led to a 3-pointer by Manu Ginobili.
The play was one of several by Marjanovic that brought the sellout crowd to its feet.
"Yeah, it’s amazing. The fans are amazing," Marjanovic said. "Tonight — every night — but tonight they really gave us support. It was like six players on the court. They helped us a lot."
Marjanovic had nine points in the third as the Spurs rallied to take a 76-72 lead after trailing by as many as seven points in the quarter. He spun on Dieng on one possession, holding the ball in his right hand as he twirled toward the basket and then tossed in a 2-footer.
"He’s just so big," Minnesota interim coach Sam Mitchell said. "I felt like our guys were physical. We boxed out, but he’s just so big. I thought we did the best job we could."
David West had 11 points while starting in place of Duncan, and Ginobili added 13 to help the Spurs overcome Popovich’s early ejection.
Popovich was thrown out with 1:13 remaining in the first half on two successive technical fouls following a non-call on Aldridge.
Official Lauren Holtkamp assessed the first after Popovich was screaming at her as he walked to the baseline in front of the Spurs bench. The initial technical caused Popovich to storm onto the court, where he was restrained under the basket by his assistants as he continued yelling and pointing at Holtkamp.
The tirade led James Capers to call a second technical and eject Popovich.
Timberwolves: Minnesota is 3-12 after starting the season 8-8. After holding opponents to 101.1 points per game in reaching .500, the Timberwolves were allowing five more points a game in their previous 14 entering Monday.
Spurs: Duncan missed his first game this season due to injury. He was a late scratch with soreness in his right knee. Duncan has missed four previous games due to rest. . . . San Antonio’s best start after 33 games was 29-4 in 2011.
Popovich was saddened to hear of the passing of George "Meadowlark" Lemon, the longtime Harlem Globetrotters star who died Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 83.
"Obviously, we all watched him for a lot of years," Popovich said. "Growing up, the Globetrotters were something special and he was like the iconic figure of that whole group. So, it’s a sad day."
Messina was unsure how to handle the media following the victory. The Spurs’ assistant took over when Popovich was ejected late in the first half and also had to fill in for the longtime San Antonio coach after the game.
"I don’t know how to do this thing here," Messina said. "I talk? I say something?"
Messina laughed when told Popovich’s usual routine was to glare at reporters for a while.