The San Antonio Spurs have fought through various injuries to key players this season. Missing coach Gregg Popovich almost proved too much for them to overcome.
Tony Parker had 24 points and 13 assists, and the Spurs rallied for a 106-102 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night, overcoming the absence of Popovich and Tim Duncan for their 15th straight win at home.
Duncan's absence was noticeable, but Popovich's was more glaring -- or less menacing, to be precise. Coach Mike Budenholzer's substitution pattern differed slightly than his boss', but the main difference were fewer glares and screams following missed defensive assignments -- and Popovich may have screamed himself hoarse in the first half when New Orleans shot 63 percent from the field.
"If (Popovich) was here, there would have been some people fired," Stephen Jackson said.
Popovich did not feel well all day, but waited until two hours before tipoff to say he would miss the game, Budenholzer said. His absence caught everyone by surprise.
"Pop's a warrior," Jackson said. "Pop might be the only person who's tougher than me. I've never known him not to be here; but wherever he is, I hope he's well. I know he pulled his hair out watching this game, but we got a win."
Tiago Splitter had 25 points and added seven rebounds. Jackson scored 15 points, Danny Green 12 and Manu Ginobili nine for San Antonio (34-11).
Eric Gordon scored 17 points for New Orleans (14-28). Ryan Anderson added 16 points, Greivis Vasquez 15 and Jason Smith 13.
The Spurs trailed most of the game with Popovich, Duncan (sore left knee) and Kawhi Leonard (left patella bruise) all sitting out.
The Hornets made their first five attempts, missed a pair on one possession and then proceeded to make their next five in taking a 31-21 lead with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
"You have to give (New Orleans) a lot of credit for the first half," Budenholzer said. "A lot of guys were making shots. I don't think our defense was great, but give credit to New Orleans to how good they were. Our focus offensively, we moved the ball well in the first half and our focus defensively the second half was excellent."
San Antonio picked up its defensive intensity in the second half, especially midway through the fourth. The Spurs came up with three turnovers and forced four missed shots, resulting in a 12-3 run for a 101-89 lead with 2 minutes left in the game.
"We were a little bit tired in the first half," Parker said. "I felt like we had no energy. Then in the fourth quarter, Danny Green did a great job on Gordon. We were able to run the fast break and get some easy baskets and everybody got going."
The Hornets closed within three points twice in the final minute on layups by Xavier Henry and Brian Roberts, but could get no closer. New Orleans coach Monty Williams, a former Spurs player and assistant coach, said San Antonio didn't steal the win.
"No, they beat us," Williams said. "That's what they do. They beat you if you make mistakes and we made too many. They missed 11 free throws and we still couldn't win the game."
Parker, who finished with only one turnover in 36 minutes, had 10 points while shooting 5 for 5 in the final quarter.
The Spurs held the Hornets to 38 percent shooting in the second half while improving to 19-2 at home this season.
Parker's layup gave the Spurs a 72-70 lead, their first since leading 9-8 2 minutes into the game. The advantage was short-lived, as the Hornets went on a 7-0 run.
Ginobili, making his first start after missing three games with a strained hamstring, had five points in the final quarter.
"It was huge that Manu played," Parker said. "Even if it was for 15 or 16 minutes, it was big minutes. He looked good. He didn't go full speed. I think he was trying it (hamstring) and testing it. In Dallas (on Friday), he's going to get more aggressive."
San Antonio started 4 for 11 on free throws, but offset it somewhat by going 7 for 16 on 3-pointers.
Splitter scored eight of the Spurs' first 10 points, with Parker picking up assists on three of the layups. Splitter drew two fouls on top draft pick Anthony Davis in his run.