LOS ANGELES (AP) — With Kawhi Leonard in foul trouble for the first time all season, the San Antonio Spurs still kept it together.
They shook off the rust from a nine-day layoff to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-97 on Friday night for their third straight win.
Leonard led the Spurs with 21 points despite having five fouls by the third quarter.
“It was just some confusion on the court, but probably could be the break, having to come in, get ready, rest up,” he said.
Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench in his return from a 15-game absence because of a fractured finger. LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Dewayne Dedmon grabbed 12 rebounds.
Off since Feb. 16, the Spurs overcame 35-percent shooting in the opening quarter and rallied from a nine-point deficit in the third to control the fourth and beat the Clippers for the first time in three games this season.
“We’re coming down to our last 20 games,” Leonard said. “This is the time we need to jell as a team, make our playoff push, make our weaknesses strong.”
Blake Griffin scored 29 points for the Clippers, who have dropped consecutive games to the league’s two winningest teams since the All-Star break ended. They lost by 10 points at Golden State a night earlier. The Spurs have the league’s second-best record at 44-13.
“Right before the break we had an amazing rhythm going,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We have to get back to being more organized.”
Chris Paul added 17 points and had four of the Clippers’ 12 turnovers in his return after missing five weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb. Austin Rivers scored 23 points off the bench, including 13 during a run that gave the Clippers a six-point lead in the first half.
“I came out unscathed, which is great,” Paul said. “It was a tough loss, but it felt good to get through an entire game.”
The Spurs stretched their lead to 10 points early in the fourth on Tony Parker’s fast-break layup off a steal from Paul.
The Clippers never got closer than six down the stretch. Leonard had back-to-back dunks, hit another basket and made 1 of 2 free throws to push the Spurs into a double-digit lead.
“It was great seeing the team reacting well and playing well,” Manu Ginobili said. “It was a good team effort, good defense. The first game after the break is usually hard for everybody.”
Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Paul combined to propel the Clippers to a 68-59 lead in the third. Griffin had 12 points, Jordan six and Paul five while the defense held the Spurs to 12 points in the run.
But it was short-lived.
The Spurs closed on a 16-5 spurt to lead 77-73 going into the fourth. Patty Mills scored six points and Ginobili hit a 3-pointer after the Clippers were ahead by one.
Rivers scored 13 points in a 20-6 run that gave the Clippers their largest lead of six points in the first half. The Spurs hit four 3-pointers after that to close the half leading 47-42.
Spurs: They held the Clippers to 13 points in the first quarter, a season low by an opponent in the period. … Gasol hadn’t made three 3-pointers all season and it tied his career high. … Aldridge recorded his fifth double-double in eight games and 14th of the season.
Clippers: They fell to 5-7 in the second game of a back-to-back. … They have lost two in a row after winning four straight going into the All-Star break.
The Spurs improved to 5-2 on their annual rodeo road trip. They don’t play another home game until March 1 against Indiana.
Spurs: Visit the Lakers on Sunday, a team they beat by an average of 24.5 points in two earlier meetings.
Clippers: Host Charlotte on Sunday, a team the Clippers defeated by five points on Feb. 11.