Kawhi Leonard looked a lot like he did last season when he earned All-NBA first-team honors,
And 40-year-old Manu Ginobili? All he did was turn back the clock for the umpteenth time and turn in another sterling performance.
With Leonard and Ginobili each scoring 21 points, the Spurs rolled to a 103-89 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the AT&T Center.
The Silver and Black improved to 27-13 with one game left in the first half of their regular season and the Suns dropped to 15-26.
Ginobili, who played only 19 minutes and sat out the entire fourth quarter, hit 7 of 10 shots, including 3 of 4 from the three-point line, in scoring his season-high 21 points. He added three assists, two steals and one block.
“Whatever he’s drinking, I want some of that,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I’m serious. There’s got to be a fountain of youth someplace.”
Ginobili became the first player in NBA history to score 20+ points in less than 20 minutes at age 40 or older. He is in his 16th season with the Spurs, the only NBA team he’s played for during his hall of fame career.
“I was feeling really well today, very energetic,” Ginobili said. “I had nine hours of sleep. Doesn’t happen that often in a family with three kids. I made three threes in a row, and then everything looked better after that.
“Since that moment, I was having an OK game. It just happened. Of course, I’m happy about that. I haven’t been making that many shots. It was a good feeling.”
Ginobili had only six points in the first half but he caught fire in the third quarter, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Ginobili scored the Spurs’ last eight points of the third quarter, helping them take an 80-72 lead into the final period. He started the run with a reverse layup at 1:11 of the period, and then nailed back-to-back three-pointers 29 seconds apart. Just like that, the Spurs were up by eight with 11.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I felt good,” Ginobili said, when asked about his performance in the third period. “I felt that those shots were going in. It’s not a feeling that I have been having that often lately. When it does come, it feels great.
“At the same time, you feel like you are helping the team because we were kind of, not struggling, but the game was close. We were right there and I helped the team get a little lead and that makes it even better.”
The Silver and Black were never seriously threatened after that. Center Pau Gasol scored the first basket of the fourth period to give the Spurs an 82-72 lead, and they maintained a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game. They led by as many as 19 points in the final quarter.
Leonard looked sharp in only his eighth game since returning from a lingering quad injury that sidelined him until he made his season debut Dec. 12. Playing aggressively on both ends of the court, Leonard logged a season-high 28 minutes. He was a force on defense, finishing with four steals and three blocks.
“He’s got active hands at the defensive end for sure, and he is just starting to get into his groove offensively,” Suns coach Jay Triano said. “He’s got midrange. He can shoot the three. He’s strong, so if you’ve got a lighter defender, he can go past them. He’s got to be the focus of your defense, and then opens up him making plays for others and then being able to shoot the ball.”
The Spurs played without power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who was given the night off by Popovich to rest. Starting guard Danny Green (groin) and backup forward Rudy Gay (right heel bursitis) also were out.
Bryn Forbes, who subbed for Green, finished with 16 points and Gasol added 15. Davis Bertans (12) rounded out San Antonio’s double-figure scoring.
“I’m just trying to help the team win, do what I can do, do what I know I can do,” Forbes said. “Whatever I play, starting, coming off the bench, I’m just trying to fulfill my role.”
Forbes smiled when he was whether he gets fired up watching Ginobili play so well at his age.
“Grandpa juice,” he said. “He has it. It’s amazing what he can do. He’s special. He makes you want to play a little bit harder when you see him doing it because he doesn’t have to.”
Devin Booker led Phoenix with 21 points, but he had only nine after the first quarter.
Leonard and Forbes scored 14 points apiece to help the Spurs take a 49-42 lead at the half. Leonard hit 6 of 13 shots and Forbes hit 6 of 10, including 2 of 4 from the three-point line.
“After the first quarter, I thought we played pretty well,” Popovich said.
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