Did Becky Hammon make history? Gregg Popovich ejection sparks mass coaching confusion

Ryan Young
Yahoo Sports Contributor

Gregg Popovich didn’t make it to the end of the San Antonio Spurs’ 121-116 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night. 

Instead, Popovich picked up a pair of technical fouls for arguing with the officials early in the third quarter, leading to his ejection at the AT&T Center.

Without the legendary coach on the bench, however, it wasn’t clear who was running the team.

In fact, it was extremely confusing.

In theory, Becky Hammon would take over the top spot. Hammon, who was promoted to the head assistant job in 2018, is next in line. And, when a head coach is ejected, the top assistant usually steps up to finish the game.

If that were the case, it would be a historic first — Hammon would be the first woman to ever serve as a head coach among major men’s professional sports in the U.S., even if she did so for just a little more than a single quarter.

But if that is what happened, it certainly wasn’t clear. It looked much more like a team effort from Popovich’s assistants, with both Tim Duncan and Will Hardy sharing leadership duties with Hammon. At times, all three coaches were sitting down during gameplay, too — making it even harder to tell who was running the show.

According to Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News, the Spurs decided to embrace the team mentality, too.

Popovich was asked about the coaching dynamic after the game, and who was the head coach after he was ejected.

“Timmy was,” Popovich said plainly, via Fox Sports Southwest. 

Did he consider letting Hammon take the spot to make history?

“I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said, via Fox Sports Southwest. 

To be fair, it is extremely hard to replace a coach like Popovich. He has been with the organization since 1988, won five NBA titles and made the playoffs in every season since he took over as the head coach in 1997. The 70-year-old became the head coach of Team USA this summer, too. It’s understandable that it would take a group to fill his shoes.

Still, having a designated head coach — whether it be Hammon, Duncan or anyone else — seems like a prudent thing for an NBA organization to have at all times, even if it’s just symbolic.

In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter. The loss, which marked San Antonio’s fifth-straight, will still go on Popovich’s record.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 32 points on Saturday, shooting 13-of-25 from the field. Damian Lillard put up 22 points, and center Hassan Whiteside finished with a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Bryn Forbes added 17 points, and DeMar DeRozan finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.

Even though it’s a loss, Popovich isn’t entirely upset with his team — especially given the fact that they rallied out of a deep 23-point hole in the first half.

“I thought we competed for more of the 48 minutes than we have in other games,” Popovich said, via Fox Sports Southwest. “By compete, I mean being as physical as we need to be and executing defensively and rebounding-wise as much as we need to be. I was really proud of them … The way they ground it out and hung in there was great.”

After Gregg Popovich was ejected on Saturday night, it was tough to tell who was leading the Spurs in his absence. (AP/Eric Gay)

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