Popovich returns, Spurs top Celtics
BOSTON (AP) — There was a familiar face on the San Antonio bench and the usual result on the scoreboard.
With coach Gregg Popovich guiding his defending champions again after a two-game absence, the Spurs beat the Boston Celtics 111-89 on Sunday for their seventh straight win.
"There’s a comfort zone there having him at the helm," San Antonio forward Tim Duncan said, "good to have him out there and good to hear his voice."
The Spurs won both games under assistant Ettore Messina while Popovich was out because of an undisclosed minor medical procedure.
Popovich was happy to be back coaching, especially after his team outscored the Celtics 66-40 in the second half after trailing 49-45.
"I don’t know what else I would do," he said.
The Spurs were led by Danny Green with 18 points, Boris Diaw with 15 and Duncan with 14. They got a surprising 13 points — including a 3-pointer to beat the 24-second buzzer in the fourth quarter — from 6-foot-10 Aron Baynes. He’s been filling in for Tiago Splitter, who has missed 15 of the Spurs’ 16 games because of right calf problems.
"It’s of major importance, so Timmy doesn’t have to get too many minutes," Popovich said. "I don’t know about Tiago’s situation. We’re very confused by it, but Baynsie is saving us."
The Celtics were led by Jeff Green with 16 points and Evan Turner with 12 as they dropped to 1-7 in their last eight games.
Boston coach Brad Stevens said his players seemed discouraged in the fourth quarter, a tough stretch for them all season, when they were outscored 33-16 on Sunday.
"That has to be something where you have the toughness to say, `Hey, something goes wrong, I’m going to make the next one right," he said.
Leading 80-77 with 10 minutes left, the Spurs went on a 14-2 run to take a 94-79 lead with 6:11 left on a layup by Cory Joseph. After Jeff Green made a free throw for Boston, cutting the lead to 94-80, Baynes hit his 3-pointer and a layup for a 99-80 lead.
In the second half, "we took care of the ball," Duncan said. "We just weren’t solid in the first half on so many different levels."
After the Celtics cut the lead to three in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, Manu Ginobili finally connected for the Spurs.
He had missed his first four shots then sank consecutive baskets — a 3-pointer and a layup — to give the Spurs an 85-77 lead and start the 14-2 surge.
The Celtics had trailed 25-22 after the first quarter then opened the second with their own 14-2 run put them ahead 36-27.
The game was tied at 45 before two jump shots by Brandon Bass in the final 1:07 of the half gave Boston a 49-45 edge at intermission.
Neither team led by more than five points in the third quarter, but the Spurs took the lead for good, 71-69, on Matt Bonner’s layup with 2:44 remaining. Kawhi Leonard followed with a layup for a four-point lead and San Antonio took a 78-73 advantage into the fourth quarter.
"The Spurs play the right way all the time," Stevens said. "They do it for 48 minutes. They do it for 82 games."
Spurs: Duncan has played in 1,269 games, one shy of tying Celtics great John Havlicek for third most with one team. John Stockton (1,504) with Utah and Reggie Miller (1,389) with Indiana are the top two on the career list.
Celtics: Tyler Zeller started his first game as a Celtic in place of center Kelly Olynyk to provide better defense against Duncan. Zeller started 55 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012-13. … Rookie guard Marcus Smart missed his ninth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle.
CLANK, CLANK: Celtics guard Rajon Rondo continued his struggles at the free-throw line. He missed both attempts and is 9 for 30 this season. He finished with only two points but with 10 assists, six rebounds and no turnovers.
Spurs: At Philadelphia on Monday night.
Celtics: At Atlanta on Tuesday night.