VanVleet, Raptors delay Popovich's record in win over Spurs

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reacts to a play during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, March 9, 2022, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SAN ANTONIO – Fred VanVleet had 26 points and the Toronto Raptors beat the San Antonio Spurs 119-104 on Wednesday night, delaying Gregg Popovich’s coronation as the winningest coach in NBA history.

Popovich is tied with his friend and mentor, Don Nelson, with 1,335 regular-season victories.

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“Obviously, we have a competitive pride and professional pride,” VanVleet said. “With as much respect to Pop and what he’s been able to do in his career, we didn’t want to be the team that he won against. So, that was a little bit of added motivation.”

San Antonio’s next opportunity to get the record for its 73-year-old coach is Friday night at home against Utah.

VanVleet was 7 for 15 from the field in his return from a five-game absence because of knee soreness. Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam added 20 points to help Toronto snap a three-game skid.

The Spurs entered the game 3-36 when trailing by double digits and VanVleet and the Raptors made sure that dubious trend continued. Toronto led by 17 points in winning for the first time since beating Brooklyn on March 1.

Toronto had five players score in double figures while shooting 48% from the field and 37% on 3-pointers.

“You got to fight, NBA, next man up,” San Antonio point guard Dejounte Murray said. “We tried, but that’s a long talented team that’s been together. They all get to their spots, whether it’s driving, kicking or finding the open man.”

After Murray cut San Antonio’s deficit to 91-86 three minutes into the final quarter, Toronto went on an 8-0 run to regain control.

Keldon Johnson had 27 points for San Antonio, and Murray added 25 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. The Spurs have lost five of six games.

Murray exited with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter after colliding heads with Khem Birch. Birch appeared to take the blow to his mouth and Murray immediately pressed a towel to his brow after play was stopped. Murray and Birch both walked to the locker room after the play. Murray returned but Birch did not.

“I thought we played them well until we got that one stretch in the third quarter,” Popovich said. “They scored nine in a row, and that really changed the game. Having Dejounte out for that period right after, that didn’t help. But they did a great job on the board, we turned it over too much, 22 points off turnovers and they were tough to stop.”

VanVleet had eight points, three rebounds and an assist in leading the Raptors to a 34-29 lead in the opening quarter.

“We know how special this building can be when it gets going,” VanVleet said. “So, just having a good start to give us a chance for the rest of the night was really important.”


VanVleet smiled when asked if he was envious of how much easier Siakam and Barnes can bull their way into the paint while he has to work extra to do so.

“No,” VanVleet said. “No. I’m happy with who I am. I think you know that. I’ll take the skills and talents that I have, and I appreciate what those guys can do. We try to make it work put it all together.”

VanVleet is averaging 21.4 points this season.


Raptors: Toronto remains seventh in the Eastern Conference, 2 1/2 games in front of Brooklyn and 4 on Atlanta and Charlotte. The Nets and the Hawks were both idle Wednesday. … VanVleet was listed as questionable with a sore right knee but was cleared prior to warmups. … F OG Anunoby missed his eighth straight game after fracturing his right ring finger. Anunoby is averaging career-highs with 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.

Spurs: San Antonio is 12th in the West with 16 games remaining. The Spurs are 2 games behind New Orleans and 3 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers. … Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker IV returned after missing Monday’s game with an undisclosed illness unrelated to Covid-19. … Keita Bates-Diop missed Monday’s game with an undisclosed illness and sat out the Raptors’ game with a sore lower back. … Rookie guard Josh Primo missed the game with an undisclosed illness. … Josh Richardson received a technical foul with 1:53 remaining from Ed Malloy. Richardson flailed his right arm in anger after Malloy called a defensive foul against him near midcourt against Siakam.


Raptors: At Phoenix on Friday night.

Spurs: Host Utah on Friday night.

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