Leonard returns with 20-point effort to power Spurs past Blazers
Kawhi Leonard’s return from a 15-game absence has the San Antonio Spurs feeling whole, and they showed it by taking apart the Portland Trail Blazers.
Leonard scored 20 points in his return from a 15-game absence in the Spurs’ 110-96 victory over Portland on Friday night.
"It took me a while to get my legs under me, get some of the excitement out," Leonard said. "I felt good tonight."
After missing 17 games total due to a torn ligament in his right hand, Leonard’s presence gave the Spurs had the extra step and pep they needed to run the fluid ball movement that became a staple of their march to last season’s NBA title.
"I think that has a lot to do with a group," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "A team feeds off of each other and he has been an obvious important part of how we do things. Everything fits better together."
The Spurs had 37 assists while shooting 42 for 94 from the field and 11 for 29 on 3-pointers. They outrebounded the Trail Blazers 49-32 and took 20 more shots in steamrolling a team that shot over 50 percent for much of the game.
"They’re the champs," Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. "They played better. They have guys that play with confidence and guys that make plays. Their guys did that tonight."
Tony Parker scored 19 points and Patty Mills added 18 for San Antonio, which had six players score in double figures and had 34 assists. Tim Duncan had 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Aldridge had 24 points and Damian Lillard added 23 for the Trail Blazers.
It was the Blazers’ first game in San Antonio since beating the Spurs 129-119 in triple overtime on Dec. 19. Leonard missed that game, but he made up for lost time quickly.
"San Antonio looked like the team that won the championship," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Obviously getting Leonard back and Patty Mills and Parker, none of those guys played last time we played them and all three of them made an impact on the game. Like I said, San Antonio looked like a pretty good team tonight."
Leonard pleaded for the ball on the game’s opening possession, hitting the front rim on a 3-point attempt.
It was one of the few times the NBA Finals MVP didn’t fire up the crowd and his teammates with his energy.
"It was big, having another guy that can give us so many things, a steal here and there a rebound, easy buckets," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who had 13 points and seven assists. "It was huge for us. He did way better than we expected after being out. He made everybody else feel more confident."
Leonard shot 8 for 18 from the field and was 3 for 4 on free throws.
Leonard initially injured his right hand Dec. 9 against Utah, tearing a ligament while trying to brace his fall on a failed dunk attempt. He returned after sitting out two games, but damaged the ligament again against Portland on Dec. 15 in his second game back when a defender slapped his right hand.
He showed no hesitancy Friday night, powering in a layup after Aldridge swiped forcibly at his right arm as the 6-foot-7 forward drove headfirst into the lane.
"He adds so much to us in a lot of different ways," Popovich said. "In subtle ways and obvious ways. It is a fine performance for somebody who has sat out for the last 30 days."
Blazers: Portland is 11-2 when Lillard has at least 25 points and five assists in a game. …. The Trail Blazers lead the series 78-77, including victories in three of their past five games in San Antonio.
Spurs: Parker received a three-inch scratch on his lower neck while driving to the basket in the first quarter. No foul was called, even as Parker pointed to his neck. … G Marco Belinelli (mild strain left groin) will be out "10 days to two weeks," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. … San Antonio has used 23 different starting lineups, tied with the New York Knicks for most this season.
SECOND TIME AROUND
San Antonio’s projected starting lineup of Duncan, Parker, Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green played together for only the second time this season. They played as a unit for 8 minutes on Nov. 5 against Atlanta before Splitter exited after aggravating a calf injury.
Parker and Duncan moved past Robert Parish and Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics for second in career wins by teammates. Parker and Duncan have won 657 games, which trails only the 906 victories by Utah’s John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Blazers: Visit Memphis on Saturday.
Spurs: Host Utah on Sunday.