Leonard; Defense carry Spurs over I-35 rival Mavericks
- Updated: November 26, 2015
For the 6th time in 7 games, the San Antonio Spurs failed to score 100. But the defense once again was all the Spurs needed down the stretch. That and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard scored a game high 26 points and made clutch shots down the stretch as the Spurs defeated their interstate rivals, the Dallas Mavericks 88-83 on Wednesday night. The win puts the Spurs 3.5 games ahead of Dallas in the southwest division and improved their division record to 2-1 on the season.
“Kawhi’s) growing,” San Antonio forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. ”I never really watched the Spurs play too much last year. I don’t know if he played to this level last year, but he’s definitely playing at a big-time level. He’s taking big-time shots and making them for us.”
This was billed as the first relevant game in the “I-35 Rivalry” in years as both the Spurs(12-3)and Mavericks(9-7)were off to strong starts in 15-16. Both teams also had new looks: the Spurs of course now have Lamarcus Aldridge alongside Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili; and the Mavericks signed Derron Williams and Wesley Matthews to go along with Dirk Nowitzki. Heading into Saturday, Dallas was a half game back of the Spurs and had won 6 straight. But entering Wednesday the Mavs had lost 2 straight and San Antonio had won 2 straight: it all setup perfectly for the first meaningful game between the two teams in years. The Spurs however quickly zoomed out to a 20-8 lead as their defense(which is holding teams to 90.4 points a game)continued to shine. The Mavs though ended the first quarter on a 10-4 run and cut the Spurs lead to 24-18 after the quarter. Both teams defenses were on center stage in the second quarter as the Spurs and Mavs both struggled from the field. Wesley Matthews however hit a three late in the half to bring Dallas within 3, but that was as close as they got as the Spurs led 46-39 at the break. The recent low scoring outputs from the Spurs have been the focus of late, so much that San Antonio Express News Spurs reporter Jeff McDonald even said this about it:
Call overturned. It's a 3. Spurs lead 63-60 heading to 4Q. Side note: Some of these Spurs scores this season seem lifted out of 1985.
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) November 26, 2015
When the second half started, the Spurs found themselves in a battle. Dallas fought its way back from an early 55-45 third quarter hole with a 9-0 run, and when Derron Williams layup with seconds left in the third tied it at 60, the Mavericks, as play by play man Mark Followill says, climbed the mountain. But they fell back down that mountain seconds later when David West hit a three pointer with 0.4 left to give the Spurs a 63-60 lead heading into the 4th. There, the game turned into Spurs-Mavericks of old. Tony Parker hit back to back jumpers to put the Spurs up 76-71 with 3:51 left, yet San Antonio(which led wire to wire)still could not put it away as the Mavs kept clawing back into the game. Finally with 52 seconds left, Kawhi Leonard rattled in a short jumper to put the Spurs ahead 84-80, only to see Devin Harris hit a wide open corner three to get the Mavs within one. Then the Spurs gave Kawhi the ball. When San Antonio lost its opener in Oklahoma City, Spurs head coach Greg Popovich was criticized for not giving the ball to Kawhi Leonard down by 2 in the final seconds. This time, he got the ball, and sank the dagger 3 pointer with 15.1 seconds left to put the game away.
The Spurs have now won 10 straight at home in the regular season against the Mavericks and have won 20 of the last 27 match ups overall(including the 2014 NBA playoffs). This was the 201st meeting all time between the two, and the Spurs improved their lead in the series to 119-82.