CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tim Duncan won more than 1,000 games as an NBA player.
He got his first victory as an acting head coach on Tuesday night.
Dejounte Murray scored 21 points and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Charlotte Hornets 104-103 without longtime head coach Gregg Popovich, who missed the game while dealing with “personal business,” according to the team.
Popovich is expected to return to the bench for Friday night’s game at Brooklyn.
“It’s night and day to be in the big boy chair,” said Duncan, who normally serves as an assistant coach. “Truth be told though, I wasn’t in the big boy chair. I had (other assistant coaches) making the calls and I was the one standing there screaming at people.”
When asked if being a head coach is something he wants to pursue down the road, Duncan said, “Nope, Pop is going to be back and I will be happy to hand it right over to him.”
Duncan said when his team had a five-point lead late in the game, he thought the Spurs might cruise to the win.
“But they had to make it interesting. I think they did that out of spite,” Duncan joked.
Hornets coach James Borrego, who worked as an assistant coach for the Spurs when Duncan was there as a player, said it was “odd” to look down at the other bench and see the five-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star coaching a team.
“I’m used to see that No. 21 on his jersey and see him out there leading the group. Tonight he had a blazer on,” Borrego joked.
Borrego said he has immense respect for Duncan.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here (as a head coach) if it wasn’t for that guy,” Borrego said.
Duncan was mostly mild-mannered on the bench, not showing much emotion as the game progressed. However, he did challenge a charge call on Derrick White with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter, but the play was not overturned.
The Hornets jumped to a 12-2 lead to open the game, prompting Duncan to use his first timeout. Charlotte extended its lead to as many 17 in the first half, but the Spurs battled back to take a 77-76 lead entering the fourth quarter.
San Antonio extended the lead to six with 4:24 left in the game after three free throws by Forbes, just moments after he appeared to get away with a travel in the lane that drew boos from the home crowd.
The Hornets came back and Rozier cut the Spurs’ lead to one with a driving layup with 42 seconds left. After DeMar DeRozan missed a pull-up jumper, the Hornets had a chance to win the game on their final possession. However, after Rozier drove to the basket, his pass under the basket went in and out of the hands of Cody Martin, allowing the Spurs to escape with just their fourth win in the last 11 games.
Borrego didn’t call timeout before the final play, so as not to let the Spurs set up their defense.