It didn't matter to the San Antonio Spurs that Gregg Popovich was ejected. They had another head coach waiting in the wings — P.J. Carlesimo.
Tim Duncan scored 23 points, and Tony Parker added 21 points and 11 assists to help the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Clippers 98-79 on Friday night in Los Angeles for their fifth consecutive win.
"I don't know that we necessarily need the captain of the ship to make a quick exit off the plank there. But obviously we responded to it," Brent Barry said. "P.J. pretends to know what he's doing over there. We listened to half of what he said, and then the other half we made up."
Popovich never made it to the end of the first quarter. Referee Eddie F. Rush ejected him for arguing about a ruling after a rebound deflected off the fingertips of Clippers guard Lionel Chalmers and out of bounds with 58.4 seconds left in the quarter and the Spurs trailing 19-12.
"Certain plays are frustrating when you see them over and over again," Duncan said. "It's not about what happened on that one play. It's probably about similar plays that have happened over the last five or six games. But we fought through it. P.J. did an excellent job along with the rest of the assistants, and we did great."
The ejection was the first for Popovich since Nov. 3, 2003, when he complained about a foul that wasn't called against the Memphis Grizzlies and made contact with referee Tony Brown. That led to a one-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.
Moments after Carlesimo took over, the Spurs went on a 12-4 run that sliced a 10-point deficit to 26-24 and they pulled ahead on Duncan's 18-footer with 1:21 left in the half.
"Tony Parker really got us going and we took care of the ball," said Carlesimo, whose NBA coaching experience includes stints with Portland and Golden State — where he was choked by Latrell Sprewell after a heated exchange during practice.
The Southwest Division-leading Spurs, off to the best start in franchise history, improved to 25-6 with their 17th victory in 20 games.
"We're playing good team ball right now," Duncan said. "We have a very unselfish team and guys are moving the ball real well, finding open guys and making plays. When you have seven or eight guys contributing on a nightly basis, it's tough to beat a team like that."
Manu Ginobili, who sat out Thursday night's victory in Portland because of a strained neck, had nine points in 25 minutes.
"It feels much batter. It's a little tight behind my left shoulder, but it's doing better than what I thought," Ginobili said.
The Clippers dropped to 13-14, marking the 25th time in 29 years that the franchise took a losing record into New Year's Day — not counting the lockout-delayed 1998-99 campaign. It was the third time in four games that they have scored fewer than 80 points, and the 10th time they failed to reach 90.
Corey Maggette and Rick Brunson each had 17 points for the Clippers, who have won just three of their last 27 games against San Antonio. They have dropped nine of 11 overall and finished the month 4-9 after going 9-6 during November.
Point guard Marko Jaric missed his fifth straight game, and is expected to be out at least another four weeks after an MRI taken Thursday on his injured right foot revealed a stress fracture.
Brunson, starting in Jaric's absence, ended the third quarter with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 28 feet out that narrowed the gap to 70-62 after San Antonio pulled away to a 60-44 lead with a 21-5 run that opened the second half.
"We spotted them seven points in the beginning of the second half, and we can't do that against a team like that because they will bury you," Brunson said. "They have great shooters and play their roles so strong, so we have to play the right way together for 48 minutes."
The Spurs began the fourth quarter with a 15-6 run that opened up an 85-68 lead with 7:18 to play. Barry, who scored 12 points on his 33rd birthday, capped the rally with two free throws and Los Angeles got no closer than 15.
The Spurs, who hardly broke a sweat in Thursday's 114-80 rout at Portland, could do no better than a 39-all tie at halftime after shooting 35.7 percent from the field. They finished at 49.3 percent.
CELTICS 108, WIZARDS 103: At Boston, Paul Pierce scored 26 points, and Gary Payton added 18 to help Boston snap a three-game losing streak. Washington's Larry Hughes tied a season high with 33 points, shooting 6-for-6 from 3-point range. Antawn Jamison added 29. Wizards scoring leader Gilbert Arenas missed the game because of flulike symptoms.
SUPERSONICS 103, BOBCATS 97: At Charlotte, N.C., Rashard Lewis scored 27 points and Seattle made 11 3-pointers. Vladimir Radmanovic added 21 points on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range, and Ray Allen had 18 points for the Sonics. Emeka Okafor led the Bobcats with a career-high 27 points and also had 10 rebounds for his 18th straight double-double.
NUGGETS 97, 76ERS 92: At Denver, Carmelo Anthony had 24 points in his return from an ankle injury and the Nuggets made Michael Cooper a winner in his NBA coaching debut. Cooper became the interim coach Tuesday after a six-game losing streak and a 13-15 start cost Jeff Bzdelik his job. Philadelphia's Allen Iverson scored 29 points, but had just four in the fourth quarter and finished 11-of-28 from the field.
ROCKETS 105, BUCKS 90: At Houston, Tracy McGrady had 42 points to help the Rockets reach .500 (15-15) for the first time since they were 6-6 on Nov. 21. Houston has won nine of its last 13 games. Rockets center Yao Ming missed a game for the first time in his NBA career, sitting out because of the flu. Michael Redd led the Bucks with 21 points.