"Obviously it's not a fair fight," Popovich said after the game.
Before the game started, the Suns had already ruled out three-fifths of their opening night starting lineup (Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Markieff Morris), as well as their only backup power forwards in Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic and backup point guard Ronnie Price. That's literally five of their top six scorers this season.
Then six minutes into the game, P.J. Tucker took a knee to the sternum and couldn't return. From that point on, the Suns had only eight available players, and only one of them was a regular starter (Tyson Chandler).
"I feel badly for the Suns when you're depleted like that, it makes it difficult," Popovich said. "But they got it down to five in the second half. They didn't stop playing, they played hard for Jeff. They were aggressive the whole way. They were just outmanned. Like I said, it wasn't a fair fight but their competitiveness was impressive."
The young Suns did fight and the kids are all right.
Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker - all 22 years or younger - were the Suns four leading scorers on the night while Tyson Chandler pulled down 20 rebounds. The only other available players - Cory Jefferson, Sonny Weems and Lorenzo Brown - all struggled as expected.
Goodwin played hard, though he only amassed two assists in 39 minutes as point guard, by scoring 20 points. T.J. Warren rebounded from a bad week to score 18, and Alex Len posterized Boban Marjanovic twice in his way to 13 points and 8 rebounds.
But Devin Booker, the league's youngest NBA player, was once again the star of the show. Booker is the first teenager since 2008 (that's six years for you math-challenged ones out there) to score 54 or more points in consecutive games after scoring 22 against the Spurs.
"Just trying to get better every day," Booker said afterward. "This is everything I asked for, so every time I go out there, I try to compete at the highest level and the NBA is the highest level. The Spurs are a top team in the NBA, so it just motivates me that much more."
Booker was undaunted by the tough defense being played (for a few minutes anyway) by the Spurs Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. He ran hard around the perimeter off screens, and either got his shot or passed it off (5 assists on the night) for a score much of the time.
Green opened the game on Booker and stayed on him like glue, but Booker was able to break free to score on 3 of 5 attempts in the opening minutes.
"He really is (a good defender)," Booker said of the matchup. "I just made tough shots, he's still playing good defense. I've been watching Danny's game for a while now and I respect his game a lot. He's a really good two-way player, he's even giving me a little bit of tips when we're out there. He's still playing against me really hard, but he gives me tips sometimes."
Tips? What kind of tips?
"Just trying to get open to the ball," he said. "[Green]'s like ‘you got to go meet the ball.' Little things like that, but at the same time, he's making it hard for me to get the ball, so it's kind of both ways. It's like I said, Spurs are a great team and I want to try to learn the most that I can."
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek made a career out of running off screens to get the ball for a good shot.
"Good shooters, all they need is the half of a step," Hornacek said. "It doesn't matter how much pressure there is. If you just get a half of a step and you can go right into your shot it should have no effect on it. I think that's a big thing for a shooter, knowing that it's not going to have any effect on you. And that's kind of where Book (Devin Booker) is at in that regard."
Later in the game, Kawhi Leonard spent some time on Booker as the Spurs tried to extend their lead in the second half. Sure, a lot of the Spurs better players didn't get many minutes, but Leonard played and made a difference when he did.
The game didn't matter. The Suns have now lost 15 of their last 16 games and have by far the league's worst net rating over the past month. Losing Bledsoe (knee) and Keef Morris (heart) doomed the team more than anyone expected.
The only bright spot is the kids getting playing time. I, for one, really enjoy watching Booker play the game. Maybe despite his age he will rub off on other players and help elevate the play of the entire team by the end of the season.
Booker's post game
Hornacek's post game
On to the next one!