MIAMI (AP)Gregg Popovich got the perfect anniversary gift from his San Antonio Spurs.
Keldon Johnson scored 21 points, Romeo Langford added 19 and the San Antonio Spurs celebrated the 26th anniversary of Popovich’s first game as coach by beating the Miami Heat 115-111 on Saturday.
”We won,” Popovich said. ”That’s what I liked the most.”
Devin Vassell had 18 points for the Spurs, hitting a jumper with 1:13 left that put them ahead to stay. Zach Collins scored 16 points and Doug McDermott added 13.
”The future’s really bright for this group,” Langford said.
Jimmy Butler scored 30 points for Miami, which got 23 from Tyler Herro, 14 from Caleb Martin and 12 apiece from Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry.
Victor Oladipo added 11 for Miami before fouling out. The Heat were outrebounded 46-32 and San Antonio’s bench outscored Miami’s 47-20.
The Spurs were up 113-111 and used two timeouts with 14.7 seconds left to try to get the ball inbounds. But Collins was called for his sixth foul on the second inbounds attempt, and Miami got the ball back with a chance to tie or win.
The Heat elected to go for the win – Herro missed a 3-pointer, then Martin missed a right-wing 3 as well, and the Spurs finished it off at the line to snap an eight-game road slide and get just their eighth victory in 26 games.
”I did not even show our team the record,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”That’s just way too dangerous. They play the way you’re accustomed to seeing them play. They really compete.”
The game was played 26 years to the day of Popovich’s debut. He promoted himself into the role after firing Bob Hill following a 3-15 start, and on Dec. 10, 1996, Popovich and the Spurs went into Phoenix and lost 93-76.
Things would get better.
The Spurs were 17-47 under Popovich that first year, finished 20-62 and drafted Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick in 1997. Over the next quarter-century Popovich became the NBA’s wins leader, the Spurs won five championships – the most recent of them against Miami in 2014 – and now are in the throes of a rebuild with a promising young core.
”The responsibility really is to try to create a base for them so that they can all have careers, one way or the other,” Popovich said. ”Doesn’t matter if it’s the Spurs or somebody else. They’re all really young guys and they deserve that opportunity to be in an environment where they can learn and have a good base to move forward from. That’s where the joy is.”
Spurs: Popovich was 19th on the NBA’s wins list when Spoelstra started as Heat coach in 2008. Spoelstra was tied for 246th on that list when he got his first victory; he’s now 21st. … Jakob Poeltl (right knee bone bruise) missed his fifth consecutive game.
Heat: Miami’s biggest lead Saturday was eight. The Heat haven’t had bigger than a 11-point lead in any of their last six games. … Monday’s game at Indiana may be Oladipo’s first time playing for the Heat at his former home arena. Oladipo last played there for Indiana on Jan. 9, 2021, and last played there as an opponent on Feb. 6, 2017, for Oklahoma City.
In a nod to past Spurs-Heat NBA Finals matchups, Miami brought back Julia Dale to perform ”The Star-Spangled Banner.” Dale was a pre-teen when she became a Heat good-luck charm during playoff runs a decade or so ago, and now is a senior at New York University.
OFF TO MEXICO
The Spurs and Heat finish their season series next Saturday in Mexico City. It’ll be the first of four alternate-site home games for San Antonio in their 50th anniversary season; the Spurs are playing their last two home dates in Austin (April 6 and 8), and have a Jan. 13 game with Golden State at the Alamodome – where the hope is to top the current NBA record crowd of 62,046.
Spurs: Host Cleveland on Monday night.
Heat: Visit Indiana on Monday night to start a four-game trip.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports