SAN ANTONIO (AP)—The San Antonio Spurs, winners of 13 straight, are turning up the defensive pressure when it counts.
Their latest lockdown came Sunday against Milwaukee Bucks, who were held to their lowest point total of the season in an 89-74 loss.
“The guys have been great making defense their primary focus all these games,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “because we have games with too many turnovers and a lot of games where we don’t shoot free throws.”
Sunday fit both of those categories: San Antonio had 17 turnovers, though only five in the second half, and the Spurs went 19-for-35 at the line.
Those flaws, however, were negated by the Spurs’ defense down the stretch.
The Spurs have held their opponents to an average of less than 78 points during their winning streak, the longest in the NBA this season. San Antonio has limited opposing teams to 80 points or less 15 times in 32 games, winning each time.
On Friday, Orlando was within a basket midway through the fourth quarter and the Spurs ended up winning by 15. On Sunday, Joe Smith hit a 16-footer to pull the Bucks to 66-63 with more than 10 minutes remaining. It would be their last basket for six minutes, and by the time Michael Redd drove for a layup with 4:38 left, it was 80-67 Spurs.
“We’ve had our moments that we haven’t been playing as well as we should,” conceded Manu Ginobili, who scored 25 with nine rebounds and three steals. “It just so happened that I made my first three shots and my confidence goes up automatically..
Duncan, who aggravated a left ankle sprain on the opening jump ball and struggled offensively all night (3-15 FG, 6-16 FT), had 15 rebounds and Turkoglu grabbed a season-high 12.
San Antonio broke the Bucks’ three-game winning streak.
Milwaukee’s previous low-scoring game was 82 on Nov. 23 in Toronto, but that night the Bucks came away with a win.
“You tell us we’re going to hold Tim Duncan to 12 points, I like our chances,” said Milwaukee coach Terry Porter, who finished his playing career in 2002 as Duncan’s teammate. “Really the only one that shot well and hurt us was Ginobili.”
Redd led Milwaukee with 22 points and Tim Thomas had 13.
“We stuck with them … The thing we didn’t do tonight is pass the ball,” said Redd, whose team had 16 assists. “Give them credit, they took advantage of the situation.”
Former University of Texas star T.J. Ford, in his first pro game in the state, had six points on 2-for-9 shooting, six assists and five fouls in 29 minutes.
San Antonio led by 16 at the half, but the Bucks quickly pulled to 57-48 with an 11-4 run capped by a 3-pointer by Redd and a 12-footer by Ford, his first basket of the night.
Ginobili just beat the shot-clock buzzer with a 3-pointer to make it 60-48, but the Spurs then had trouble getting into their offense and Desmond Mason’s dunk off Brian Skinner’s missed jumper in the final minute of the third pulled the Bucks to 66-59.
Duncan missed five of his first six shots, but he still had secured his 26thdouble-double in 28 games more than eight minutes before halftime.
The Spurs have gone 69-for-115 (60 percent) at the free-throw line in the past five games. … The all-time record between San Antonio and Milwaukee is 30-29 in favor of the Spurs. … The Bucks have been consistent—1-1 in October, 7-7 in November and 7-7 in December. They play next on Tuesday in Dallas. … After 15 games in December, the Spurs don’t play again until Jan. 3, at home against Philadelphia. The six days off will be their longest rest ofthe season aside from the All-Star break in February.