SAN ANTONIO (TICKER) —You know things are going right for the San Antonio Spurs when a rookie guard throws a 40-foot bounce pass to a 40-year-old center and it turns into a bucket.
The Spurs kept rolling with their 32nd win in 39 games since January 1. They also had coach Gregg Popovich rolling his eyes after one play late in the third quarter.
In transition, Argentine rookie Manu Ginobili fired a one-handed bounce pass between defenders. The ball hit veteran center Kevin Willis in stride, and he put it in for a layup and a 77-59 lead.
“I just saw Kevin sprinting and getting out ahead of the pack,” said Ginobili, who had one assist. “Sometimes it’s tough to get a pass like that high enough for a big man, but he did a great job collecting it and finishing the play.”
“I loved Pop’s expression when Manu made that pass,” said Duncan, whose 52nd double-double featured 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. “That was the best part. His face turned red and he put his head between his legs. You don’t get reactions out of Pop like that much, and that was the best part of it all.”
Both Duncan and Popovich remain impressed with the athleticism of Willis, despite his advancing age.
“He’s gonna play ‘til he’s 50. I’m not kidding,” Duncan said. “I’ll be retired and he’ll still be running the floor. He’s the first one to the block every time. He’s just an incredible athlete.”
“Kevin running the floor like that at age 40 … it was a great play for the fans,” Popovich said.
The Spurs gave the fans a lot to cheer about. They never trailed, shot 52 percent (41-of-79) from the field and beat the Rockets at home for the 12th straight time.
Duncan made 12-of-16 shots for the second straight game. Jackson sank 10-of-17 shots, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Ginobili scored nine points and Willis added seven.
“We’re kind of fun to watch right now,” Duncan said. “(We) get up and down the floor and make things happen. We have a good mix of being able to run and knowing when to pull it out.”
Rockets All-Stars Steve Francis and Yao Ming had terrible games. Houston fell to 2-5 since assistant Larry Smith took over for cancer-stricken coach Rudy Tomjanovich and fell one-half game behind Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
“The way that San Antonio is playing, it was like running into a buzzsaw,” said Francis, who managed just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting and barked at the coaching staff when he came out of the game for good late in the third quarter.
“It was a situation where I decided to go with Mooch (Moochie Norris) to get momentum going,” Smith said. “It has nothing to do with that.”
Yao, the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, had his second poor game in as many nights. After shooting just 3-of-13 and being overwhelmed by Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday, he managed just two points on 1-of-9 from the field against San Antonio and also sat out the final period.
“I just didn’t play well at all,” Yao said through an interpreter. “I just have to get my rest and take advantage of our day off. I plan to sleep well and eat a good meal.”
“We weren’t giving up tonight at all by not playing them, but I wanted to rest them,” Smith said. “We made some big plays with our second group.”
By that time, it was too late. Ginobili scored five points in a 16-7 surge in the second quarter that was capped by a jumper by Tony Parker, giving San Antonio a 44-33 lead with 3:27 left.
The Spurs held a 48-37 lead and turned the game into a rout with another burst in the third period. Jackson scored seven points in a 13-2 run, including a 3-pointer that gave San Antonio its largest lead at 65-45 with 7:30 to go.
“Jack was incredible on the offensive end,” Duncan said. “We moved the ball very well as a team.”
Despite a spark from their bench, the Rockets got no closer than 11 points the rest of the way. They shot 43 percent (35-of-81) and remained winless in San Antonio in 12 games since April 20, 1997 - two months before the Spurs drafted Duncan.