Duncan wanted to make clear, however, that he was not really taking charge and instead relying on his fellow assistants to oversee the gameplan with him.
"We got Becky [Hammon] and Will [Hardy] and Mitch [Johnson]," Duncan said afterward, per Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. "Mitch prepped the game for us, Becky and Will were making all the calls, and I was the only one just standing there screaming at people, nonsensical stuff. We did it coach by committee, and it could have been any one of us out there."
The Spurs defeated the Charlotte Hornets, 104-103.
Hammon, who became the second woman in NBA history to serve as an assistant coach in 2014, has long been considered a top candidate to replace the 71-year-old Popovich when he retires. In the meantime, she's interviewed for a number of other jobs, including general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2017.
That made many NBA fans confused as to why Duncan was named the interim coach Tuesday. The Spurs legend retired as a player in 2016 and rejoined the team as an assistant before the 2019-20 season began.
Against the Hornets, he earned his first career victory as a coach, though it didn't come easily.
San Antonio trailed by as many as 17 points before storming back in the third quarter. With 2:12 to play, the Spurs found themselves up 104-97 and clamped down on defense to make sure they held on for the win.
For anyone who thinks that may mean Duncan is ready to run his own team for real, well, not even the Big Fundamental is ready to commit to that.
"It's night and day, to be in the big boy chair," Duncan said, per Orsborn. "Truth be told, I wasn't in the big boy chair."
He added, "Pop's going to be back, and I'll be happy to hand it right over to him."
As for his players, the feedback was much more promising.
"I saw a lot of similarities as to how he was as a player and as a coach," Patty Mills told Orsborn. "Very thoughtful, very quick to be able to answer questions and obviously very knowledgeable. When guys asked questions, he gave them constructive feedback to go out and get the job done.
"It's hard to believe that was his first game as a head coach because it was handled very well, with the backing of the other assistant coaches as well."