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Spurs 107, Warriors 101: April 26, 2012
San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills (8), Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson, and Spurs’ Danny Green (4) eye the loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs’ DeJuan Blair, right, looks to shoot against Golden State Warriors’ Mickell Gladness during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs’ James Anderson (25) lays up a shot against Golden State Warriors’ Chris Wright during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors’ Charles Jenkins during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
Golden State Warriors’ Charles Jenkins, left, and Chris Wright (33) guard San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills (8) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors became the first NBA team in modern history tonight to start five rookies. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs’ DeJuan Blair, left, fouls Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
Golden State Warriors’ Chris Wright (33) looks to pass away from San Antonio Spurs’ Matt Bonner (15) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
By Jeff McDonald
OAKLAND, Calif. — Given a rare starting turn at point guard, Patrick Mills poured in 61 points in two nights, helping lift the Spurs to pair of victories and, improbably keep alive the franchise’s streak of 50-win seasons.
That was all well and good.
Come noon on Sunday, when the top-seeded Spurs open a first-round playoff series with Utah at the ATT Center, the clock is sure to strike midnight on Mills’ Cinderella run.
“I’m going to venture a guess that Tony Parker will be our starting point guard come playoff time,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said.
But what a show it was while it lasted.
Playing in place of Parker for the second night in a row, Mills produced quite an impression of the four-time All-Star on Thursday, setting career bests with 34 points and 12 assists in the Spurs’ 107-101 victory over Golden State at Oracle Arena.
With it, the Spurs clinched 50 wins for an NBA-record 13th consecutive seasons, breaking a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers. That it came in a season lockout-shortened to 66 games was remarkable even to the players and coaches who produced it.
“I don’t think anybody thought any team in the NBA would win 50 games in a shortened season,” said Mike Budenholzer, the Spurs’ acting coach for the second straight game with Popovich on leave.
It seemed especially unlikely after the Spurs started 12-9.
“At that point, you definitely not thinking that,” Budenholzer said. “You’re hoping you’ll maybe be .500 or win 40. Our guys deserve a lot of credit. They’ve been great all year.”
At 50-16, the Spurs ended tied with Chicago for the NBA’s top overall record. Thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker, the Bulls would hold home-court advantage in a hypothetical Finals meeting.
The Spurs finished the regular season winners of 10 in a row, giving them three double-digit winning streak for the first time in franchise history. They also produced a pair of 11-game streaks earlier in the season.
The Spurs won the season’s final two games, at Phoenix and Golden State, with their three leading scorers and head coach at back in San Antonio.
Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were sent home from Phoenix after a 90-minute practice session Wednesday morning, with Popovich tagging along for what the team called “personal reasons.”
And so, the Spurs’ winning streak was left in the hands of a skeleton crew.
Mills, a third-year pro from Australia who joined the team in late March, scored 27 points against the Suns, establishing a career high with a shelf life of 24 hours.
“These chances don’t come up very often, when you send your three Big dogs back to San Antonio,” said Mills, who played his college ball at St. Mary’s (Calif.), 20 minutes away from Oracle Arena. “I was very pumped to have this opportunity.”
The Spurs also got a career high 19 points from James Anderson, starting at small forward in place of resting rookie Kawhi Leonard. DeJuan Blair contributed 22 points and 13 rebounds.
When the Spurs open the playoffs Sunday, it’s possible neither Mills, Anderson nor Blair will start out in Popovich’s planned rotation.
“I’ve been saying it all year,” Bonner said. “We have the deepest team in the NBA. One through 13, we can put them in and they’ll contribute.”
With losing the season finale in the Warriors’ best interest for lottery-ball reasons, coach Mark Jackson trotted out a lineup Thursday better suited for the Las Vegas Summer League.
Utah is due Golden State’s first-round pick in the June draft, so long as it falls outside the top 7. The worse the Warriors’ record, the better the odds they lose the pick.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Golden State started five rookies (Charles Jenkins, Klay Thompson, Chris Wright, Jeremy Tyler, and Mickell Gladness) becoming the first NBA team in the modern era to do so.
After ending the season 23-43, Jackson denied intentionally tanking for a better draft choice, but didn’t deny that he was OK with the outcome.
“In the middle of it, we are trying to win,” Jackson said. “Now that it is over, we are pulling for a higher pick.”
Of course, Golden State does own a second first-rounder in June. The Spurs’ 30th overall pick, obtained in the Richard Jefferson-for-Stephen-Jackson deal, probably won’t be the one that turns the Warriors around.
Another 50-win campaign behind them, this one the most improbable at all, the Spurs now turn their attention to the playoffs.
Which means Mills returns to the bench.
His out-of-nowhere scoring binge is over. But it was fun while it lasted.
“That’s alright,” Mills said. “If I’m on the bench, I’ve still got to roll.”
Game 1 at Spurs, Sunday, noon
Game 2 at Spurs, Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Game 3 at Jazz, Saturday, May 5, 9 p.m.
Game 4 at Jazz, Monday, May 7, time TBA
*Game 5 at Spurs, Wednesday, May 7, time TBA
*Game 6 at Jazz, Friday, May 11, time TBA
*Game 7 at Spurs, Sunday, May 13, time TBA
* if necessary