SAN ANTONIO — After the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, the team serenaded coach Gregg Popovich with a rendition of Happy Birthday.
Popovich, who turned 66 Wednesday, doesn’t like that kind of attention.
“He hates it,” guard Tony Parker said.
Popovich’s night could have been worse. The Spurs allowed an 18-point lead to nearly evaporate, but just in time they turned into something resembling the team celebrated by so many for their offensive precision and defensive prowess.
They made 3-point shots. They passed the ball for layups. They made stops. They made a 12-0 push in the fourth quarter and beat the Hornets 95-86.
San Antonio (30-17) has won nine straight games against the Hornets. The latest victory elevated the Spurs into a tie for sixth place in the Western Conference with Dallas, which lost at Houston on Wednesday.
“We had great moments in spurts,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “The full 48 (minutes) is what we are looking for. It’s what we need.”
Charlotte (19-27), trailing by 17 at the half, made a 16-3 push in the third quarter, cutting the Spurs lead to two, and then settled for a five-point deficit at the end of the period. The Spurs scored just 14 points in the quarter, converting 4 of 21 shots.
When Hornets guard Gary Neal opened the fourth quarter with a 3-point basket, San Antonio found itself ahead by just two again.
But forward Matt Bonner and guard Manu Ginobili responded with 3-pointers, and then Tim Duncan made a remarkable play for 38-year-old forward wearing a brace on his left knee. After Ginobili missed a 3-pointer, Duncan chased the rebound into the corner and threw it off Charlotte guard Lance Stephenson, the ball landing out-of-bounds.
Duncan then converted a pass from Ginobili into a short bank shot and a 10-point lead with 9:37 left.
The Spurs limited Charlotte to 37 percent shooting accuracy in the fourth quarter. Duncan made four blocks and grabbed four defensive rebounds in the quarter. Reserve guard Cory Joseph made several hustle plays in the fourth quarter and other parts of the game.
“I think he was the most important part of the game,” Popovich said. “His defense, his 50-50 balls, rebounds. The things he did were huge in keeping the run going.”
Charlotte hurt itself with four turnovers in the final quarter, and the Spurs turned those into nine points.
“San Antonio is a team that will make you pay for every mistake that you make,” Hornets center Al Jefferson said.
Parker led the Spurs with 17 points. Green scored 16, making four 3-point baskets, including two in the fourth quarter. He blocked three shots. Duncan produced 12 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.
Guard Gerald Henderson led Charlotte with 18 points, but he missed four of five shots in the fourth quarter, when Joseph guarded him. Jefferson scored 17 and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Charlotte played its second game of a long stretch — at least six weeks — without point guard Kemba Walker, the team’s leading scorer who has a torn meniscus in his left knee. Brian Roberts replaced Walker in the starting lineup. Roberts had eight points and six assists without a turnover.
Coach Steve Clifford said the Hornets are capable of succeeding without Walker.
“To me, there is a toughness and intelligence about the group of guys that are able to play right now that should allow us to win going forward,” Clifford said. “We need everybody ready and playing well, trying hard to do the right things.”
NOTES: The Hornets were without two starters. G Kemba Walker, who averaged 23 points in his past 21 games, underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. He will be out at least six weeks. F Marvin Williams sustained a broken nose and a concussion when he took an inadvertent elbow from New York Knicks F Jason Smith on Saturday. … C Bismack Biyombo, a key reserve for Charlotte, has a bone bruise on his right knee and will miss at least 10 days. … The Spurs played their third of six consecutive home games. After that stretch, they will turn the AT&T Center over to the rodeo. The Spurs’ annual rodeo road trip is nine games. … The Spurs signed journeyman F Reggie Williams to a 10-day contract Wednesday. … Spurs G Marco Belinelli missed his 10th straight game with a strained groin.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.