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Spurs give Popovich a birthday win over Hornets

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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.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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