Kawhi Leonard darted into the lane to grab a long offensive rebound, dribbled back out beyond the top of the key and let a few precious seconds tick off before suddenly rising for a shot from 25 feet out.
The San Antonio star backpedaled, holding his right hand triumphantly above his head as his 3-pointer went through. Much of what had been a raucous crowd began quietly heading for the exits.
Leonard capped a 30-point, 11-rebound performance with a game-sealing 3 with 35 seconds left, and the Spurs extended their winning streak to seven games with a 94-86 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night.
Leonard was 12-of-22 shooting, including 6 for 10 from 3-point range, one night after San Antonio clinched its 19th straight playoff berth with a victory at home against Detroit. Leonard’s difficult, game-tying, baseline turnaround with Jrue Holiday’s hand in his face also helped fuel a 12-0 San Antonio run to close out the last 3:10.
”I’m just playing in the flow of the game. It doesn’t matter what quarter it is. I’m going to play the right basketball so we can get the right shots,” Leonard insisted when asked if he tried to be more assertive at crunch time. ”Fortunately, I was able to make shots down the stretch.”
LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and Danny Green scored 11 for the Spurs, who trailed 86-82 after Anthony Davis’ short baseline jumper with 3:36 to go.
Aldridge began the decisive run with an 11-foot jumper and later gave the Spurs the lead for good with a jumper set up by Tim Duncan’s no-look pass from the lane.
”He was great – rebounded, played defense well, made shots, especially big ones in the fourth quarter that we needed,” Leonard said of Aldridge, who seems to be growing increasingly comfortable in his first season with the Spurs. ”Being able to play with him … I see how good he really is and I’m just starting to learn more about him.”
Patty Mills widened the lead with a 3 before Leonard put it away.
Davis had 17 points and 13 rebounds for New Orleans, which dropped its third straight. Eric Gordon added 23 points and Holiday scored 13.
The Pelicans missed their last six shots and allowed the Spurs to grab a pair of critical offensive rebounds that led to five second-chance points during San Antonio’s game-ending run.
”There’s a reason they’re 52-9,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of the Spurs, whose 23 road wins match the Pelicans’ overall victory total this season. ”We gave ourselves the opportunity to beat a real good basketball team, but in the last 3 minutes we struggled again to get it in the basket and come up with stops.”