Gregg Popovich has never been called a wallflower during his two-decades-plus as coach of the San Antonio Spurs. The man attended Air Force. He is strident and outspoken.
He can be a pain-in-the-ass to a reporter, if he doesn’t like the tone or intelligence of a question. And he has never hesitated to speak his mind to officials.
Seeing Popovich ejected from a game is not unusual. He is a pot of water, simmers before suddenly boiling over. And his act can be very entertaining.
Still, you’d have to admit getting his butt tossed from a game after only 63 seconds, like he did on Wednesday, takes it all to a new level.
“People know his personality,” said Spurs forward LeMarcus Aldridge said. “He’s a passionate guy. I feel like they (officials) have been really quick with him. He’s passionate and he might push it with them, but he also calms down.”
That’s all the time it took for Popovich to pop over a non-call on Denver’s Paul Millsap, who was hanging on Aldridge in the post. Aldridge swiveled his frame toward the hoop and then missed his shot.
“That’s how it started,” Aldridge said. “There was contact. They are always preaching about freedom of landing and (defenders) going into your (space). I got hit. It was a foul. There was contact, for sure.”
Always on the launching pad, Popovich blasted off. He started to jaw at the officials before calling a timeout. But instead of focusing on his players he continued the assault against Mark Ayotte.
Assistants Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka tried to provide a human shield, but he pushed ahead and it was official David Guthrie who gave him his hall pass.
One technical. A second technical. See you later, Pop. According to ESPN, it was the quickest ejection in the NBA this season. Then again, it’s probably a good thing Popovich wasn’t around for the final 47 minutes of San Antonio’s 113-85 loss.
This is a critical time for the Spurs, even though they have clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference, a half-game behind seventh-place Oklahoma City and two games behind the sixth-place Los Angeles Clippers.
The Spurs have lost five of eight. A win would have helped their playoff position, maybe helped keep them away from a first-round series against the Golden State Warriors.
“You’ll have to ask the officials,” said Popovich, when asked about the ejection.
He then lightened the mood a little when he joined the press conference Nuggets coach Mike Malone was having with the media. According to ESPN, this was the exchange:
Malone: “We were just talking about an NBA record that was set tonight.”
Popovich: “What was the record? What happened?”
Malone: “Somebody got thrown out in 63 seconds.”
Popovich: “Are you serious? That person must have hit somebody. Somebody get hit tonight? Somebody get cursed at or anything?”
Cue the laugh track. Gregg Popovich, a regular Jimmy Fallon.
How rare is a 63-second ejection? The Elias Sports Bureau tells us he is the first head coach to be ejected within the first two minutes since Washington coach Flip Saunders left at the 1:46 mark in Boston in 2012. Joey Crawford tossed Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson 93 seconds into a game against Minnesota on Dec. 7, 2004.
“Weird,” said San Antonio’s Rudy Gay. “I would think someone like him would be able to talk to the referees,” Gay said.
Popovich was already warmed up for his ejection. On Sunday, he got himself tossed in the third quarter of a 113-106 home loss to the San Antonio Kings, who will not be in the playoffs.