The NBA's most powerful man and its most respected and iron-willed coach plunged into an unexpected battle of wills Thursday over a basic tenet: A coach can decide what is best for his team.

San Antonio's Gregg Popovich sent stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, plus key role player Danny Green, on a commercial flight home instead of playing them in a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat so they could rest ahead of the Spurs' Saturday home game against the league-leading Memphis Grizzlies.

NBA commissioner David Stern issued a statement before the game started apologizing to fans and saying, "This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."

After the game, Popovich was informed of Stern's statement and declined to comment.

"I would never react to something I don't know about or haven't read or heard," he said.

The Heat won 105-100, needing a 3-pointer from Ray Allen with 22.3 seconds left for the winning points.

"I don't think Pop was in the wrong; it's not in the rules to tell you you can't send your guys home," said LeBron James, who had 23 points in the Heat's fifth straight win. "The commish made his decision and everybody else will deal with it."

The Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights, their sixth game of a road trip and their 11th road game in November. Popovich, as he's done in the past in such situations, decided it was best to rest his front-line players. In addition, the Spurs were without key players Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard because of injury, leaving them with just nine players in uniform.

Last season, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the Spurs would not be disciplined after not bringing Duncan, Parker and Ginobili to a road game in Utah. Overall, Popovich held his top three players out of three games for rest last season.