He had no idea what rookie DeJuan Blair would do when given the chance to replace him.
Blair set new career highs with 28 points and 21 rebounds, and Richard Jefferson hit the game-winning jumper in overtime to lift the San Antonio Spurs to a 109-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
"I'm going to take what he gave us tonight, and I don't know how he did it," said Popovich. "I have no clue what his moves are. He's just a basketball player. He hustles his [tail] off, he's got a nose for the ball, he's got great hands and he does what you saw. We didn't teach him any of it. He brought it all with him."
Blair, the All-American center from Pitt who got passed over in the draft over concerns about his surgically repaired knees, provided another reminder to the teams that passed on him before the Spurs selected him in the second round at No. 37 overall.
But Blair could only watch from the bench after fouling out in overtime when Manu Ginobili -- having gone scoreless in regulation -- made the play of the game.
Ginobili went diving out of bounds to save an errant pass that bounced off of Antonio McDyess. George Hill then passed it to Jefferson, who beat the shot clock with a 13-foot jumper in the lane with 9.1 seconds left.
"A little luck, that's for sure, but you need it sometimes. In back-to-backs on the road, a little luck doesn't hurt," said Tony Parker, who also scored 28 points - 22 of them in the first half.
Russell Westbrook missed a potential game-winning 19-footer for Oklahoma City at the final buzzer.
"Both teams really busted their noodles out there tonight, and the ball bounced our way down the stretch, very honestly," Popovich said. "It just did. It bounced our way and then we made a shot."
Hill had 16 points and Jefferson and McDyess scored 13 apiece.
"I think we executed down the stretch in the fourth quarter, got stops when we needed them and made it a game," Durant said. "But you know what? They scored more points than we did."
The Thunder, who trailed by 19 in the first half, rallied back from an eight-point deficit in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter to force overtime. Thabo Sefolosha finished off an 8-0 run with a two-handed slam to tie it at 97 with 57.6 seconds left, and Westbrook was able to answer Parker's jumper to even the score again.
McDyess missed a 3-point attempt from the left wing at the end of regulation, after Ginobili was double-teamed.
Durant put the Thunder up 108-106 on a 20-foot jumper from the right side with 1:28 left in overtime, and McDyess made one of two free throws to make it a one-point game. Jefferson then blocked Sefolosha's shot to give the Spurs a chance to go ahead.
Ginobili drove toward the basket and bounced the ball off of McDyess. The ball then landed just shy of the end line before Ginobili laid out to save it to Hill. The extra effort turned a breakout performance from Blair into a victory.
Blair had 10 points, six rebounds, two steals and a block as the Spurs opened a 10-point lead in the first 5½ minutes, and the widebodied 6-foot-7 center was also busy setting screens to clear the way for Parker, who had 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first quarter.
The lead reached 19 early in the second quarter before the Thunder stormed back with an 18-4 run, powered by eight points by Westbrook.
But Blair and Parker took over again, scoring 12 of San Antonio's points during a 20-8 push that restored the lead to 63-46 on Jefferson's right-handed jam over Nenad Krstic with 28.4 seconds left in the second quarter.
By halftime, Blair had matched his career best with 18 points, and his 11 rebounds were one shy of his career high.
"I was really going after it today. I only had two rebounds the last three or four games, so I was going after it today," said Blair, who had five total rebounds in his last three outings.
- The Spurs also won their only two other games without Duncan this season, beating Toronto on Nov. 9 and Dallas on Nov. 11. Parker also missed both of those games.
- The Thunder had their lowest-scoring first quarter since a Nov. 22 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, getting outscored 35-18.
- The Thunder fell to 16-2 when scoring at least 100 points.