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Spurs win seventh straight in Popovich’s return

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BOSTON — Gregg Popovich faces an interesting decision Monday in Philadelphia.

The San Antonio Spurs coach, who likes to rest his aging stars, particularly on the back end of playing two straight nights, could provide some rest for his weary after the Spurs’ 111-89 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

Then again, Popovich, who returned Sunday after a two-game absence for a minor medical procedure, also can’t want to be the coach to lose to the winless 76ers.

“I haven’t even thought about it. I just want to go to dinner,” Popovich said after his defending NBA champions won their seventh straight.

The older veterans — forward Tim Duncan and guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — got plenty of rest on Sunday, when the Spurs were able to break the game open at the start of the fourth quarter. Parker logged 30:37 and had nine points and nine assists. Duncan played 24:44 and went for 14 points and eight boards. Ginobili, coming off the bench, went 18:29 and scored all seven of his points to help break the game open.

And now, it’s on to Philly and the second game of a four-game road trip.

Sunday, the Spurs blew a nine-point first-quarter lead and then recovered from a nine-point second-quarter deficit to improve to 12-4.

Forward Danny Green led five San Antonio players in double figures with 18 points, going 4 of 9 from 3-point range. Center Boris Diaw had 15 points and seven rebounds, and big man Aron Baynes, getting minutes for the injured Tiago Splitter (calf), added a season-high 13 points, nine of them in the spurt that broke the game open, making Popovich a winner in his return.

“Good to have him there,” said Duncan. “Obviously, there’s a comfort zone there and having him at the helm there, although coach (Ettore) Messina did a great job in his absence — good to have him out there and good to hear his voice.”

Splitter has played in only one game. Baynes has scored in double figures in two straight games.

“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 with our bigs right now.

“He’s doing a really good job. He doesn’t look the part — he looks like he should be a pro wrestler, but he seems to play basketball fairly well.”

The loss was the fourth in a row overall and sixth straight at home for the Celtics (4-10).

“I thought we were doing a lot of good things, but then we string two or three possession together where we just don’t, we don’t play the right way at both ends of the floor,” said Boston coach Brad Stevens.

Popovich said the Celtics have the right man for their rebuilding job.

“He was a hell of a coach before he got here and he’ll be even a better coach as time goes on,” he said. “He’s a special guy. That’s why [president] Danny Ainge went and got him.”

Forward Jeff Green led the Celtics with 16 points but was just 6 of 16 from the floor.

Guard Rajon Rondo, 1 of 8 in the fourth quarter in Friday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls, had 10 assists and six rebounds, but scored just two points on 1 of 5 from the field. He also missed his only two free throws and is 9 of 30 from the foul line for the season.

NOTES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich returned after missing two games with a minor medical procedure. Asked before the game about watching his team on television, he said, “You rarely get to do that. When you do it you realize it’s probably harder for the people that watch than the people that are in the battle, without a doubt — your family, the GMs and their staff. You’re watching it and you don’t have any control over anything. You just live and die with every play, call and that sort of thing. It’s much easier sitting on the bench and being in the middle of the fight.” … C Tyler Zeller got his first start as a Celtic. “Defending Tim Duncan,” coach Brad Stevens said when asked why Zeller started over Kelly Olynyk. Zeller had 10 rebounds and seven points in almost 23 minutes. … The Celtics, who honor a “Hero Among Us” at every home game, presented the award Sunday to the family of journalist James Foley, the New Hampshire resident and lifetime Celtics fan murdered by terrorists.

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

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