CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—After a sloppy first half of play, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich lit into the Spurs at halftime and told them to return to what they do best: Putting the ball in Tim Duncan’s hands.
Duncan scored 15 of his 29 points in the third quarter to help the Spurs take control over the winded Charlotte Bobcats and roll to a 94-86 victory on Wednesday night.
“We were playing too fast in the first half and making mistakes,” said Tony Parker, who added 23 points. “So we decided to get the ball into Timmy because when we do, he is going to dominate inside—and he did.”
Duncan, who also added 10 rebounds, was hit with a rare technical foul for arguing a call during the frustrating first half that saw the Spurs commit 14 of their season-high 22 turnovers.
When Duncan came back out for the third, he shot 6-of-9 in the period and helped the Spurs take a 64-52 lead.
Duncan started a 13-4 run with a layup on an assist from Parker, then after a Charlotte miss, he grabbed a defensive rebound and scored on a 12-foot turnaround jumper. He added a pair of free throws in the run, and his layup with 5:30 to play in the third capped it.
“We were very sloppy in the first half and got reamed when we came in here, and rightfully so,” Duncan said. “We came out much more focused in the third.”
Popovich said performances like that are what makes Duncan special.
“He gets taken for granted,” he said. “We expect it out of him every night. There is not a lot of flash, but he is going to rebound and block shots and play D every single night. He’s a very special guy.”
The Bobcats, who played into overtime in three of their first four games, were clearly feeling the effects of that grind against the defending NBA champions. The Spurs led almost the entire way and the final score was closer than the game ever was.
Charlotte made several brief runs, the final one with just over three minutes to play when the Bobcats began to chip away at the Spurs’ 85-75 lead. Although they were able to score, the Bobcats couldn’t stop the Spurs and the closest they got was 89-84 with 1:19 to play.
Parker then ended any comeback hopes with a driving layup over Emeka Okafor that made it 91-84.
“I think the positive thing we can take out of this is we are a young team trying to learn how to close ball games and they just showed us a perfect example,” said Gerald Wallace, who scored 15 points for Charlotte.
Nick Van Exel added 12 points for San Antonio, which was short-handed with guards Michael Finley (groin) and Brent Barry (back spasms) both going on the inactive list before the game. Manu Ginobili, who was also hurting, came off the bench and scored just eight points in 30 minutes.
The Spurs led by as many as 11 in the first half, but the Bobcats were able to pull back into the game by holding San Antonio scoreless for over four minutes. It allowed Charlotte to cut the lead to 30-29 on a pair of Raymond Felton free throws.
Charlotte never could get over the hump, though, and the Spurs had pushed their lead back to 48-43 by halftime.
Although Duncan played at Wake Forest, this was his first appearance in Charlotte since Nov. 8, 2001. … The Spurs also activated forward Sean Marks and signed guard Melvin Sanders, who had been with the team in training camp. … Among the celebrities in attendance was reigning NASCAR champion Kurt Busch — who was booed when introduced on the scoreboard—and a slew of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. … Former Hornets coach Paul Silas was also at the game, saying he has moved back to Charlotte since being let go by the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. He’s currently doing some broadcasting work for ESPN.