(The Sports Xchange) - Kawhi Leonard is getting more secure with the ball in his hands and the game on the line and his success in that role has been an important part of the San Antonio Spurs hot start.
Leonard poured in 26 points, including the clinching three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining, as the Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks for an 88-83 victory on Wednesday.
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki hit a jumper with 2:15 to play, cutting San Antonio’s lead to 82-80 and Dallas had a chance to tie on their next possession but Deron Williams badly missed a jumper.
Leonard hit a 12-foot jumper with 51 seconds to play, but Mavericks guard Devin Harris nailed a three-pointer to cut the margin to one with 33 seconds left.
Leonard then poured in a three-pointer over stout defense by Dallas guard Wesley Matthews to seal the win and help the Spurs improve to 8-0 at home.
“Our type of offense puts everybody in a good situation and tonight I got the chance to make some shots for my team to win the game,” Leonard said. “I was just excited the ball went in.”
It was the 10th time this season that Leonard led the Spurs in scoring.
“Kawhi is coming into his own,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s feeling comfortable being the guy to take shots and we put him in those positions. He’s performing wonderfully.”
LaMarcus Aldridge, back in the lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury, added 18 points for San Antonio (12-3). Tony Parker scored 16 points.
The Mavericks (9-7) were led by Matthews’ 15 points. Nowitzki added 13 and a game-high 14 rebounds, while Harris scored 11 points.
It was the lowest scoring game of the year for both teams.
”Holding San Antonio to 88 points is usually enough for us to get a win,“ Matthews said. ”We fought and we didn’t give up at any time. We continued to play our brand of basketball even though out shots weren’t falling.
“We just didn’t get enough stops and enough buckets when we needed to.”
The Spurs led by as many as 12 but settled for a 24-18 advantage after the first quarter. They pushed that lead to 46-35 on an Aldridge put-back with 1:01 to play in the second quarter.
However, the Mavericks responded with a layup by Dwight Powell and an off-the-bank jumper by Williams just before the buzzer to cut the advantage to 46-39 at halftime.
Aldridge and Parker had 12 points each at the break to pace the Spurs, while Williams scored six to lead Dallas.
The third quarter belonged to the Mavericks, who tied the game twice in the final 36 seconds, first on a driving layup by Harris and then with a double-pump running jumper in the lane by J.J. Barea.
The Spurs struck last on David West’s three-pointer from the top of the arc at the buzzer, granting San Antonio a 63-60 lead with a quarter to play.
“It’s frustrating because we had some good looks at shots at the end that could have tied the game or given us the lead,” Nowitzki said.
“Kawhi made some big baskets and the shot at the end that he made over (Matthews) was a tough one. This one hurts because we made them battle and we played well. I like the fight we showed the entire game.”
Compiled by Peter Rutherford