The Spurs finally secured a home winning streak after scoring a 94-90 win over the Miami Heat on Monday night at AT&T Center, but they had to scramble to secure a second straight win on their home court after a choppy second half in which they squandered most of an 18-point lead.
It was not the sort of getaway game Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich wanted as his team prepares to play four of its next five games on the road, beginning with a Wednesday night game against the Kings in Sacramento.
The second half was choppy: Miami got physical with the Spurs and made things much more difficult than the first half, which produced a 55-40 Spurs lead, would have predicted.
“We lost focus in the third quarter with eight turnovers,” Popovich said. “I thought their pressure was good, and we didn’t react to it very well. We turned it over on offense. We just tried to dribble too much. The ball didn’t move around much and they got back in the game.”
When the Heat got too close, the Spurs turned to Kawhi Leonard. The team’s leading scorer in all but two games this season, Leonard got 11 of his team-high 24 points in the final eight minutes.
It’s something Spurs fans have come to expect, though Leonard insists he is but one of several crunch time options.
“(It’s) either me or (LaMarcus Aldridge) or Tony (Parker), just whoever has the rhythm going at that moment,” Leonard said. “But it’s always up to Pop. I do have the mindset to stay ready and be aware of that moment.”
The moment that required Leonard’s go-to game arrived, in part, because Popovich opted to err on the side of caution after starting shooting guard Danny Green suffered a groin injury in the first half. Green played 15 minutes of the first half and insisted his injury wasn’t serious, but Popovich held him out of the second half and had Jonathan Simmons open in Green’s shooting guard spot.
Simmons continues to search for the offensive magic that made him a hero of the opening night upset against the Golden State Warriors, where he scored a career-high 20 points. He missed the three shots he attempted in the second half and scored only five points for the game.
After playing their third straight game with the lineup most fans had anticipated at the start of training camp, the Spurs will have to rely on the recuperative powers of Green and backup big man DeWayne Dedmon to know if they will have that much-anticipated roster for Wednesday’s game against the Kings in Sacramento.
Dedmon suffered a left knee sprain late in the third quarter and did not play in the fourth period.
“It’s frustrating,” said starting point guard Tony Parker, whose own bout with a hyperextended right knee appears to be over, based on a second game in which he scored in double figures (11) and led the team in assists (6). “But it happens to every team. You have to go through the ups and downs of the season and hope you arrive healthy when the playoffs start.”
Green described his groin injury as minor. “I’m okay, I’m fine. I caught a knee,” he said, predicting he would be back in the starting lineup in Sacramento.
Dedmon was scoreless, but had six rebounds and two blocks in a little more than 10 active minutes against the Heat.
Pau Gasol narrowly avoided joining the injured list after he was shoved into the basket stanchion following a long pass from teammate Patty Mills that produced a layup with 5:38 remaining in the third period. Upset that no foul was called on the play, the 7-foot center was still battling some pain in his neck afterwards.
“My neck got hyperextended,” Gasol said. “It’s a little sore right now. Hopefully it will be okay.
“That fast break, there was late contact on the layup. I don’t think the officials helped too much, to say it lightly. There’s going to be nights like that, and you have to play through it, even though it’s kind of hard at times. We move on and get ready for the next one.”
Gasol extracted some revenge in the fourth period when he gave Miami forward Justise Winslow a shove that knocked him to the floor and created an opportunity to pass to Patty Mills, wide open at the 3-point line.
When Mills nailed the shot, Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra drew a technical foul for arguing that Gasol should have been called for an offensive foul, turning Mills’ make into a four-point play when Leonard made a technical foul shot.
The play stretched the Spurs’ lead to 12 points, 86-74, and they needed such an edge to survive Miami’s late rally.
“The guy fell,” said Gasol, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh. “He must have slipped or something. I was holding my position. He was behind me, trying to gamble. He fell on the floor. It happens, right?”
Gasol and his teammates could joke a bit after running their record to 8-3 and winning for just the third time on their home court, but they will hold their breath a bit waiting to see how Green and Dedmon feel after they arrive in Sacramento on Tuesday afternoon.