By RAUL DOMINGUEZ Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Spurs have won five straight overall and eight in a row at home, though San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is not ready to make any grand proclamations about the team’s direction.
San Antonio’s veteran coach knows nothing matters until the postseason. Still, the Spurs are starting to feel good about themselves.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 29 points and 15 rebounds, DeMar DeRozan added 28 points and the Spurs overcame a 15-point deficit in the first quarter to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 121-114 on Sunday night and match their longest winning streak of the season.
“And then the truck hit us after we turned the corner, is that what you’re about to say?” Popovich said, chuckling at the question. “I don’t make sweeping assumptions about where we are (and) where we’re going. Just like any other year, we’ve always tried to be the best team we could be by the time playoffs arrive and we hope that we’ll be part of the playoffs.”
San Antonio has moved into seventh in the Western Conference and within percentage points of sixth-place Utah. The Spurs’ home streak includes wins over Denver and Oklahoma City, and they have now beaten the top three teams in the East at home after topping Philadelphia in December and Toronto in January.
“It was a great test for us, one of the best teams in our league,” DeRozan said. “We started off kind of rough but we kept at it. To pull out this win is big.”
Milwaukee’s lead atop the Eastern Conference was cut to two games ahead of Toronto after losing on the second night of a back-to-back.
Popovich said the Spurs caught a break in the schedule, as the Bucks arrived in San Antonio at 4 a.m. after hosting Charlotte on Saturday night. They also lost an hour of sleep due to Daylight Saving Time as the Spurs rested at home after last playing Wednesday in Atlanta.
“It certainly doesn’t help, but all the credit goes to them,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They deserved to win, they played better than us. We just weren’t good enough tonight.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 13 rebounds as Milwaukee’s two-game winning streak ended. Eric Bledsoe added 21 points and Brook Lopez had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bucks appeared fresh early as Bledsoe scored nine points during an opening 11-4 run. The Spurs started sluggishly, opening the game 2 for 10 from the field.
San Antonio was without third-leading scorer Rudy Gay, who missed the game due to an undisclosed illness, but the reserves stepped up in his absence.
The Spurs shot 11 for 27 on 3-pointers, with reserves Marco Belinelli (4 for 8) and Patty Mills (4 for 7) combining for most of the 3s. Belinelli and Mills both finished with 16 points.
“Tonight was a great example of understanding the game plan, executing the game plan and trusting everyone and each other on the defensive end,” Mills said. “It was probably one of the best games for us all season in playing team defense.”
Antetokounmpo was limited to 13 points in the second half on 5-for-9 shooting as the Spurs sent multiple defenders at the Bucks’ 6-foot-11 star.
“They played really good team defense, packing the paint,” Antetokounmpo said. “I was trying to create some shots for myself but I was trying to find my open teammates. I think I did a pretty decent job but we weren’t able to knock down shots.”
San Antonio opened the second half on a 17-4 run while holding Milwaukee to one field goal in the opening five minutes.
Aldridge’s eighth 3-pointer of the season, this one off one of DeRozan’s six assists, gave the Spurs their first lead of the game at 67-64 with 8:41 remaining in the third quarter.
San Antonio outscored Milwaukee 33-23 in the third quarter and opened the fourth on a 10-1 run to solidify control of the game.
Bucks: The Bucks had won two straight in San Antonio with their previous loss coming Dec. 2, 2015. … Milwaukee is 23-12 on the road this season, the league’s second-best mark behind Golden State (21-11).
Spurs: Gay has missed 12 games this season, including one for rest. … Aldridge had 15 rebounds, giving him 7,815 for his career to move past Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for 72nd in league history. Robertson had 7,804 over 14 seasons with Cincinnati and Milwaukee. … Mills is the only Spurs player with 120-plus 3-pointers in five seasons.
The game was delayed nearly a minute after a bat flew above the court and buzzed past Bucks guard Pat Connaugton’s head. Bledsoe ran, ducking for cover and Antetokounmpo dashed away.
“I can’t even deal with roaches and ants,” Antetokounmpo said. “There’s no way with a bat. I don’t understand why the mascot is a coyote; it should be a bat.”
The Spurs’ mascot, The Coyote, emerged in a Batman costume Sunday with a net along with a stadium worker and scared the bat to the rafters of the AT&T Center. The Coyote captured the last bat at the AT&T Center, making a diving catch with a net on Feb. 2 when the Spurs faced New Orleans.
Former Spurs center Pau Gasol was honored before the game with a video highlighting his 18-year career with the Grizzlies, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs and the Spanish national team, as well as his charitable work. Gasol signed with Milwaukee after accepting a buyout from San Antonio on March 1.
“I think it was a very warm welcome even though I basically left a week ago or so,” Gasol said. “But the relationships are here, the moments that we put together are here and it’s appreciated from both ends.”
Bucks: At Dallas on Tuesday night.
Spurs: At New Orleans on Tuesday night.
By RAUL DOMINGUEZ Associated Press