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Old 01-14-13, 03:37 AM
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Pop’s ejection sparks Spurs’ victory over Timberwolves

By Mike Monroe

The Spurs had stopped moving the basketball in the early minutes of the second half Sunday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and their coach had reached a breaking point.

Calling a timeout after his team went scoreless on its first five possessions, Gregg Popovich vented his frustration on a helpless clipboard, slammed to the floor to punctuate his admonition that his players stand less and pass more.

The Spurs responded with an 11-0 run that opened a pathway to a 106-88 victory, their 29th in 40 games.

That cooled Popovich’s emotions, but only temporarily. The coach boiled over again in the fourth quarter, this time at the referees. Two technical fouls brought an automatic ejection and helped the Wolves convert a five-point possession.

This time, the Spurs reacted with a 9-0 run that put away their 12th straight homecourt victory at the AT&T Center.

Immediately upon seeing Popovich quick-stepping to an exit, a question flashed in the mind of veteran guard Stephen Jackson, whose two technical fouls against the Lakers four days earlier produced both his own ejection and a five-point possession for L.A.

“Is that my Dad?” Jackson wondered. “Am I Pop Jr.?”

Laughing at his own suggestion, Jackson stressed the bond Popovich’s players feel for a coach willing to take a pair of $2,000 fines on their behalf.

“Any time a coach does that, you know what it means: Go out there and play harder, go out there and get this game, even if he’s not on the sideline,” Jackson said. “Every player loves a coach who goes to bat for him. You can’t get better than the way Pop does it.”

Nobody could blame Popovich for being in a sour mood. In the final moments of the first half, he had watched veteran guard Manu Ginobili go to the floor with a strained left hamstring, the severity of which won’t be evaluated until today.

Gary Neal, who has seesawed between backing up Tony Parker at point guard and starting 16 games at shooting guard, did a fair impression of Ginobili in the second half. Making 5 of 7 shots, three of them from 3-point range, Neal scored 13 of his 15 points in the final two periods.

“He shot the ball great and gave us some impetus,” Popovich said, “but we finally found a group that would move the basketball instead of standing. We actually changed sides of the court and moved the ball and moved the defense, and then Gary made some shots. That was nice. When you score, it’s a little easier to play defense at the other end instead of chasing everybody all the time.”

There wasn’t much wrong with the Spurs’ defense when they weren’t chasing down the Timberwolves on post-turnover runouts. The Wolves made just 37.5 percent of their shots and became the 10th Spurs opponent to score fewer than 90 points.

Tim Duncan blocked a season-high seven shots, the main reason the Spurs finished with a season-high 13 rejections.

It was just the second time in six seasons Duncan had recorded at least seven blocks and just the 17th time in a regular-season game in his 16 seasons in silver and black.

“They just kept coming at me, and I was just trying to bring some energy and get a rhythm back,” Duncan said. “I’ve been in a slump lately, and I’m just trying to fight my way out of it.”

The Spurs’ captain entered the game having made only 14 of 41 shots in his previous three games. He made 4 of 8 against the T-Wolves, letting Tony Parker (20 points on 10-of-15 shooting) and Neal handle the heavy offensive lifting.

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