Popovich alone in 5th for coaching wins

AP
The San Antonio Spurs beat the New York Knicks on Tuesday and Gregg Popovich is now the fifth-winningest coach in NBA history. 
AP
Reuters

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich directs his team against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.  


Gregg Popovich was the coach nobody wanted.

It’s hard to fathom now, after five NBA championships as coach of the San Antonio Spurs and with him now alone in fifth place on the league’s all-time victory list. 

But it’s true — Popovich’s decision to fire Bob Hill and make himself coach and general manager in December 1996 was horribly received at first, leaving even some of his own players baffled.

The San Antonio Express-News took a poll after that season and found that 92 percent of Spurs fans wanted Popovich fired.

As Popovich would suggest now (on politics, one of his favorite topics), sometimes voters get it wrong.“The pressure is always there for any coach,” Popovich said.

“You’ve got to get the job done. If you don’t, you’re not there. If you do get it done, you get to stay.”

He said those words in 1997. He was right.

Popovich now has 1,176 wins. He’s 34 away from No. 4 Pat Riley, 45 shy of No. 3 Jerry Sloan, and should catch both next season. He would need 156 to catch No. 2 Lenny Wilkens, and 159 to match No. 1 Don Nelson’s record of 1,335.

“Doesn’t mean anything, except I’ve had good players and I’ve been coaching for eons,” Popovich said.

On Tuesday, he was just as fooled initially as the referees and didn’t realize that Manu Ginobili’s overthrown pass had gone in the basket, the most bizarre bucket of San Antonio’s 100-91 victory over the New York Knicks.

“I did not, in all honestly. I did not,” Popovich said. “Then everybody started grabbing me and saying the ball went in. I said, ‘Yeah, the ball went in!’ 

I acted like I knew what was going on.”

He almost always does.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 29 points and Kawhi Leonard had a season-high 25 for the Spurs. Ginobili finished with 12 points — three of them coming on what appeared to be a pass that went into the basket without everyone noticing.

“He makes magic happen,” Aldridge said. “He’s the only 40-year-old that can make plays like he does every night.”

The Spurs beat the Knicks for the second time in six days and won for the fourth time in five games.

Ginobili, the Argentine veteran who got some loud cheers as he often does while playing in New York, appeared to be attempting a lob pass from beyond the 3-point line to Aldridge, but the pass went over his head. 

Michael Beasley grabbed it and began dribbling up the court as Ginobili and other Spurs waved frantically to the officials that the ball had actually gone into the basket.

“It went so clean that nobody saw it and I went crazy because once you make a shot like that, you want it to count,” Ginobili said. 

“So yeah, it was very awkward, but common sense, I guess. The refs reviewed it and we got it.”Referees eventually credited the basket to Ginobili but only for two points. The basket was reviewed after the quarter ended and counted as a 3-pointer. 

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