SAN ANTONIO – Same song, different verse for Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs.
Leonard, arguably the best two-way wing player in the NBA, scored 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter while leading the Spurs to a stirring 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night at the AT&T Center.
Leonard made spectacular plays on both ends of the court in the final half-minute to seal the hard-fought victory. He drained a 3-pointer to put the Silver and Black up 110-108 with 25.4 seconds left and then blocked a shot by Rockets guard James Harden, who was driving hard to the basket against David Lee.
The wild sequence continued with Houston center Nene getting the rebound, missing a hurried shot under the basket and Leonard winding up with the ball.
Leonard was fouled and sank two free throws to make it 112-108 with 14.5 seconds remaining. Nene made it a two-point game with a dunk with 10.6 seconds left. The Spurs inbounded immediately and ran out the block before the Rockets could foul.
"That was a good block, but initially I got fouled," said Harden, who also scored 39 points. "That's why the ball took so long to get up. It was a good block, and we just didn't win."
What was going through Leonard's mind after he scored his last field goal?
"Just get back and get a stop," he said. "Those guys were hitting shots, big shots."
Leonard described what happened before he came up with the critical block of Harden's layup.
"I saw him get an easy lane to the basket and I just tried to chase him down and time it, time the layup," Leonard said. "David Lee did a good job of not letting him really get athletic, and just keeping a body on him, and just jumping straight up. It helped me get the block."
The victory was the eighth in a row for the Spurs, who pushed their record to 49-13. The Rockets slipped to 44-20.
Leonard, who has scored at least 30 points in 22 games this season, hit 12 of 18 shots, including 4 of 5 from the 3-point line. Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 19 and 15 points, respectively, and were the only other Spurs scoring in double figures.
"Well, he's been doing it a lot, so I don't think it's a surprise really," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, when asked about the way Leonard has been taking over games in the fourth quarter. "He's a heck of a player, and he's progressed every year that he's been in the league, and he's gotten to this point where he's one of the premier go-to guys in the league. So it's be foolish not to use that ability."
The game was the fourth consecutive nail-biter for the Spurs, who pulled out overtime victories against New Orleans and Minnesota on Friday and Saturday after edging Indiana by one last Wednesday.
The Rockets led by as many as 16 points in the first half and were up 54-47 at intermission. The Silver and Black outscored Houston 34-28 in the third quarter to trail by only one, 82-81, heading into the fourth period.
Harden matched Leonard, scoring his 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting, including 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. He also dished out 12 assists. Harden has scored at least 30 points and finished with double-digit assists in 21 games this season. Harden scored 23 points in the first half and 16 in the final two quarters.
With Leonard hitting big shot after big shot, the Silver and Black outscored Houston 19-12 in the final 6:03. Leonard scored 15 of the 19 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in a span of five minutes. He also had a two-point field goal and went 7 for 7 at the free-throw line in that stretch. But his biggest play of the night was the block on Harden, who had scored almost at will on drives to the basket.
"It was great. That's who Kawhi is," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said of the block. "He's a great player and he hit some big shots. It was good. James Harden had a phenomenal game. Both had phenomenal games and it was a great contest. They came away in the end."
While Popovich said "we don't talk about MVP awards," he made a good case for Leonard getting the big prize.
"The big block is what makes him special," Popovich said. "Obviously, the three, you know (James) Harden makes threes, Kawhi makes threes, this guys makes threes, that guy makes threes. Steph (Stephen Curry) makes threes, everybody does that.
"But I don't know who goes to the other end and does what he (Leonard) does. Not that many people on a consistent basis, an entire game, game after game. Kawhi wanted it badly, and he went and took it."
Leonard got his 17 points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-6 shooting, including the two 3-pointers, and the seven free throws.
The victory was the third in a row against the Rockets for the Silver and Black, who won the season series 3-1.
The Spurs host the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night in the first game of a back-to-back. After playing at Oklahoma City on Thursday, the Silver and Black take on Golden State on Saturday night at the AT&T Center.
Golden State (52-11) leads the Western Conference and has the best record in the league. San Antonio and Houston are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the West and have the second- and third-best records.
Here is a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the Rockets-Spurs game Monday night:
Final: Spurs 112, Rockets 110. Kawhi Leonard scores 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter.
Fourth quarter (14.5): Spurs 112, Rockets 108. Kawhi Leonard puts the Silver and Black up 110-108 with a 3-pointer and then hits two free throws.
Fourth quarter (2:06): Spurs 105, Rockets 104. Kawhi Leonard gives the Spurs a one-point lead with a runner on the right baseline.
Fourth quarter (5:44): Rockets 98, Spurs 93. Houston guard James Harden leads all scorers with 35 points. Kawhi Leonard is tops for the Silver and Black with 24 points.
Fourth quarter (9:56): Rockets 89, Spurs 86. The Silver and Black went up 86-82 on a 3-pointer by Patty Mills, but Houston has come back with a 7-0 run.
End of third quarter: Rockets 82, Spurs 81. Houston guard James Harden has 35 points on 12-of-15 shooting, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. Kawhi Leonard leads the Spurs with 22 points, hitting 8 of 12 shots, including 2 of 3 from thed 3-point line. Tony Parker has 15 points and LaMarcus Aldridge 13.
Third quarter (3:30): Spurs 73, Rockets 71. David Lee gives the Silver and Black with a dunk. Kawhi Leonard assist.
Third quarter (5:23): Rockets 69, Spurs 67. The Silver and Black are on an 11-0 run. One 3-pointer by Danny Green, two 3-pointers by Tony Parker and a dunk by David Lee.
Third quarter (7:15): Rockets 69, Spurs 56. Houston guard James Harden already has 30 points, hitting 11 of 13 shots, including 5 of 6 from the 3-point line.
Halftime: Rockets 54, Spurs 47
First-half notes: Houston guard James Harden scored 23 points in the first two quarter on 8-of-9 shooting, including 4 of 5 from the 3-point line. No other Rocket had more than eight points in the first half. Houston shot a scorching 69.7 percent (16/23), in the first quarter, including 4 of 9 from beyond the arc, but cooled off a a tad in the second period. The Rockets shot 48.9 percent overall (22/25) and 36.8 percent (7/13) from long distance for the half . . . Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs in the first half with 14 points, hitting 6 of 9 shots. He was 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. LaMarcus Aldridge had nine points, making 3 of 6 shots. The Silver and Black shot 45.5 percent overall (20/44) and were 4 of 14 (28.6 percent) from the 3-point line . . . The Rockets led 39-23 after one quarter, and that was their biggest lead of the half. The Spurs' biggest lead was two points. The Silver and Black outscored Houston 24-15 in the second period.
Second quarter (6:16): Rockets 47, Spurs 34. Houston is shooting 52.8 percent (19/36).
Second quarter (9:32): Rockets 42, Spurs 30. Pau Gasol has scored the first five points of the period for the Silver & Black, hitting a 3-pointer and throwing down a dunk.
End of first quarter: Rockets 39, Spurs 23. James Harden scored 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line. Houston shot 69.6 percent (16/23) and was 44.4 percent (4/9) from the 3-point line.
First quarter (1:36): Rockets 33, Spurs 21. Houston is running the Silver and Black off the court. Rockets guard James Harden already has scored 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
First quarter (6:40): Rockets 14, Spurs 7. The Silver & Black are off to another slow start at home.
SPURS GAMEDAY: Silver and Black defense faces rugged test against rival Rockets
Houston Rockets (44-19) vs. Spurs (48-13)
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m., Monday, AT&T Center
Rockets’ last game: Beat Grizzlies 123-108, Saturday, Memphis
Spurs’ last game: Beat Minnesota Timberwolves 97-90, OT, Saturday, AT&T Center
Season series: Spurs lead 2-1
Last meeting: Spurs 102, Rockets 100, Dec. 20, AT&T Center
Rockets’ last 10 games: 8-2, won last two
Spurs’ last 10 games: 9-1, won last seven
Notable: With his stellar performance in Saturday’s 97-90 OT win over Minnesota, Kawhi Leonard (34/10/6) became the first Spur to have 30+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ steals in a game since David Robinson in 1991.
SAN ANTONIO – After the Spurs slipped past Minnesota in overtime on Saturday, coach Gregg Popovich was asked what winning three consecutive nail-biters says about his team.
“We don’t give in, I guess,” he said. “We are realizing more and more that these games are 48 (minutes) and that you don’t have to panic. You just keep on playing.”
Saturday’s OT game was the second in a row for the Silver and Black, who edged the Pelicans 101-98 on Friday in New Orleans. Two nights earlier, Kawhi Leonard hit the game-winning shot with 2.4 seconds left in a 100-99 thriller against Indiana at the AT&T Center.
“The last couple of games have just taken pretty much mental toughness, just sticking with it,” guard Danny Green said. “We haven’t been shooting the ball well lately as a group, but I think our defense has given us a chance. It’s been enough to keep us in games. I think that’s what we’re going to need going down the stretch, especially in the playoffs.”
With the Houston Rockets up next, there’s no reason to expect anything but another close game for the Spurs when they host their Interstate 10 rivals Monday night. The Silver and Black lead the season series 2-1, but they beat the Rockets by just two in San Antonio the last time the teams met five days before Christmas.
The Silver and Black defeated the Rockets 106-100 in Houston on Nov. 12, three nights after the Rockets pulled out a 101-99 victory at the AT&T Center. No. 3 in the Western Conference standings, Houston trails second-place San Antonio by five games.
Any discussion about the Rockets starts and ends with high-scoring guard James Harden, who is averaging 28.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 11.3 assists this season.
Harden and Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook generally are considered the front-runners for the league’s MVP award, but Leonard is gaining on them fast.
Harden was at the top of his game in a 123-108 road win over Memphis on Saturday, scoring 20 of his 33 points in the third quarter and finishing with 11 assists. Harden has scored at least 30 points and recorded double-digit assists in 20 games this season.
Houston led by just two in the third quarter against the Grizzlies before Harden went off, scoring the Rockets’ next 15 points and increasing their lead to 10.
After they face the Rockets, the Spurs host Sacramento on Wednesday and play at Oklahoma City on Thursday. They end the week at home Saturday against Golden State, which leads the Silver and Black by 2.5 games in the West. The Warriors and Silver and Black have the two best records in the league.
Leonard was asked what kind of mindset the Spurs will have as they start the week against Houston.
“Just the same as any other game,” he said. “Be ready. Be prepared. The Rockets are a great team, starting off with James Harden. We just have to be mentally focused, come in and be able to get it going from tipoff.”
Does playing against Harden, Westbrook and Golden State guard Steph Curry make it a special week for Leonard and the Spurs?
“Right now we’re just trying to get better as a team, keep moving forward,” Leonard said. “I mean, it’s special because you’re playing against good teams. We just think about ourselves, really, not about who we’re about to play against because anybody could beat us.”
Houston has added sharpshooting guard Lew Williams, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers, since the last time the Spurs played the Rockets. Williams has averaged 17.2 points in five games with Houston.
“They’re a very good team,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “They shoot a lot of threes. They had firepower before that (trade for Williams). They have more firepower now. We know it.
“We just have to continue to play good defense and give ourselves a chance because offensively you never know how your shot is going to go. We’ll try to contain them and not let them get off as many threes as they normally do.”
Next up for the Spurs after Monday’s game: vs. Sacramento Kings, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, AT&T Center.
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