INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gregg Popovich may be the only guy who can stop San Antonio right now.
If the Spurs coach had his way, this franchise-record winning streak would probably already be over. His players don’t see it quite the same way.
Tony Parker scored 22 points, Boris Diaw added 14 and the surging Spurs earned their franchise-record 18th consecutive win by handing the Indiana Pacers their worst home loss of the season, 103-77, Monday night.
“We just wanted to continue to do what we’ve been doing, which is push the ball and play at a high pace and share the ball,” Parker said. “It’s nice to have the record in San Antonio, but it still doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win it all.”
A year ago, the Spurs fell short in Game 7 of the NBA Finals at Miami.
This year, San Antonio (58-16) seems to be surging at just the right time. The Spurs haven’t lost since Feb. 21 at Phoenix and broke the franchise’s previous mark on the 18th anniversary of their only other 17-game winning streak by beating the NBA’s best home team on its own court.
If Popovich had his way, this talk would likely be over.
His players don’t believe their coach will allow the streak to continue much longer, especially if the Spurs can clinch the NBA’s best record with games to spare. They lead Oklahoma City by 3½ games in the Western Conference and have six more wins than the Pacers and seven more than the Heat with eight to play.
“I think he’ll be happy if we lose anytime soon,” Parker said, laughing before explaining that Popovich might end it himself. “I’m pretty sure because he’s going to rest like half of the team.”
On Monday, Tim Duncan went 3 of 10 from the field and Manu Ginobili managed only six points and two assists in 16 minutes. The Spurs still routed a team that had been No. 1 in the East all season. Indiana now trails two-time defending champion Miami by percentage points for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ll worry about a couple of things, staying healthy, finishing the season strong and hopefully going into the playoffs with the confidence we’re playing with now,” Duncan said.
The loss was a devastating blow to the Pacers, who have made no secret of their desire to get home-court advantage in the East and had a seemingly safe three-game lead after beating Miami at home on Wednesday. But Indiana has lost three straight, finished March with an 8-9 record and the lowest scoring average of any team in the league.
They have lost five of six overall and seem to be in full panic mode with seven games to go.
“It’s awful, we’ve been in a downward spiral and we’ve been splintering a little bit,” Roy Hibbert said. “We’ve had plenty of players-only meetings and plenty of sit-downs as a team with coaches and we’ve had some upper management in here, so I don’t know. Maybe we should all go to group therapy or something, sit down with Dr. (Chris) Carr and figure out some of our grievances.”
Carr is the team’s performance psychologist.
Whatever the problem, even the Spurs could tell these were not the same Pacers who posted a double-digit win on San Antonio’s home court in December.
Indiana fans, who have seen their team go an NBA-best 33-5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season, let them know they didn’t like it by booing at points during the game, most extensively when coach Frank Vogel conceded the loss by sitting his starters for the final 3:37.
Paul George scored 16 points, while Hibbert and Lance Stephenson each finished with 15, but the Pacers were outrebounded 15-7 on the offensive glass and outscored 42-28 on second-chance points.
“Their togetherness really showed, that’s where they beat us,” George said. “That was a team that’s all together playing as one, the team that we were to start the year.”
The Spurs put Indiana in a 13-5 hole, then used a 15-0 run to take a 32-15 lead early in the second quarter, forcing Indiana to play catch-up. The Pacers never got closer than seven.
Indiana did have a few bursts.
Stephenson provided some spunk with a one-handed dunk, a steal and a driving layup in a 39-second span of the second quarter to get the Pacers within 37-26. But Parker hit a 20-footer, Ginobili made 1 of 2 free throws and Parker drove in for a layup to rebuild the lead to 48-35 at halftime
When George scored four in a row to finally get the Pacers within single digits at 59-50, Parker’s layup during a 5-0 spurt helped San Antonio make it 64-50. And when Indiana got as close as seven early in the fourth, the Spurs ran away.
So how much will Popovich let the streak continue?
“We’ve never set any numerical goals,” the Spurs coach said. “We just talk about being the best team we can, come playoff time.”
NOTES: The 26-point margin also matched Indiana’s worst loss of the season, at Houston on March 7. ... Indiana has lost six straight home games to San Antonio.