SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich greeted his latest career milestone with his usual self-deprecation and deflection, insisting he only achieves these records because he is old.
Friends and players rarely disagree with the San Antonio Spurs’ emotional coach. But, they did this time.
Popovich tied the NBA record for the most career wins with a single franchise, earning his 1,127th in the Spurs’ 102-86 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.
Popovich matched Jerry Sloan of Utah for the league mark, but did so while saying he’s not the equal of the coach who resigned in 2011 after 23 seasons with the Jazz.
“He’s in a different league than me,” Popovich said.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said that’s nonsense. He spent 11 seasons with San Antonio before joining the 76ers and is one of Popovich’s closest friends.
“In 2017, where professional sports are so ruthless and cutthroat, survival rates and people that can last are rare,” Brown said. “He would say, ‘Well, that must mean I’m old.’ I think it means he’s good, really good.”
Popovich’s abilities are evident this season. San Antonio has seven new players on its roster and lost franchise stalwart Tim Duncan to retirement in the offseason.
Despite the turnover, the Spurs maintained the league’s second-best record at 38-11 with their 12th straight victory at home over Philadelphia and 11th straight overall against the 76ers.
“It’s amazing,” Spurs veteran Tony Parker said. “To have Pop up there, he’s going to keep going. It looks like he’s not getting tired, he’s not going to stop anytime. It’s very impressive to coach that long and keeping your team motivated with the same message, it’s not easy.”
San Antonio had 15 steals and forced 23 turnovers, both season highs, as both teams played short-handed.
The frontcourts for both teams were depleted, with San Antonio missing LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, and Philadelphia without Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington. Aldridge and Embiid were both late scratches with minor knee ailments.
Kawhi Leonard scored 19 points and Dewayne Dedmon had 13 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double for the Spurs.
“I think Dewayne Dedmon was the star of the show tonight,” Popovich said. “Everything he did was great.”
The 76ers’ frontcourt got 25 points and 10 rebounds from Ersan Ilyasova, and Dario Saric added 14 points.
Philadelphia was held to 33 points in the second half, and San Antonio outscored the 76ers 31-20 in the third quarter after losing an eight-point lead in the second. Philadelphia only made 10 shots in the second half.
“I think defense was the key in the second half,” said rookie Davis Bertans, who finished with 12 points. “If you can keep teams to 33 points a half, I think you’ll win all the games.”
Ilyasova had seven points during a 14-2 run beginning midway through the second quarter that gave the Sixers their first lead at 44-40.
76ers: Noel missed the game with an upper respiratory infection … Covington sat out with a bruised right hand. … Philadelphia has not won in San Antonio since Jan. 3, 2004 — 83-77. … The 76ers were also without assistant coach Jim O’Brien. The 64-year-old coach is battling the flu, but will be with the team Saturday in Miami. … Philadelphia has missed 167 games due to injury, illness or rest.
Spurs: Aldridge sat out with a sore right knee. He has missed three games this season, including two for rest. … Parker is 61st in career minutes at 35,541, passing the 35,516 of Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. … Gasol missed his eighth straight game since breaking his fourth metacarpal on Jan. 19. Popovich said Gasol should be back after the All-Star break and could return to play a game or two before the break. San Antonio has missed 53 total games this season due to injury or rest.
UNCERTAIN ON EMBIID
Brown was unsure if Embiid will be available for the team’s next two games.
Embiid remained at home to rest a bruised left knee. He will have his knee looked at Friday and a decision will be made at that time about his availability for Saturday’s game in Miami.
“It’s still up in the air,” Brown said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge. I feel we will know categorically in the next few days. I think Joel will be a real great addition if we see him in Miami, but it’s not something I am completely planning on at all.”
LEARNING ON THE JOB
Brown charged Saric with guarding Leonard, the Spurs’ leading scorer.
Leonard finished with 19 points, his lowest total in 10 games. The 6-foot-7 forward was 8 for 17 from the field and 3 for 5 on free throws.
Brown was asked if he gave Saric, a rookie, any advice before the game.
“I remind (Saric) who he is,” Brown said. “That he, too, has a lot to offer — his resume, his pedigree. His resume doesn’t translate as much in the United States and NBA basketball, but it means something in Europe. I try to remind him that he has something to offer.”