(The Sports Xchange) - The San Antonio Spurs continue to set one milestone after another during this record-breaking season but insist they aren’t paying any attention while keeping their collective eyes on the ultimate prize, another NBA title.
Kawhi Leonard poured in 27 points as the San Antonio Spurs shrugged off a ragged first half and ran away from the Detroit Pistons 97-81 on Wednesday, winning their sixth straight game and remaining unbeaten at home this season.
San Antonio (51-9) improved to 29-0 at the AT&T Center this season, extending its record for the best home start by a Western Conference team. It was the Spurs’ first game at home since Feb. 6 because of their annual Rodeo Road Trip and it took them a while to find their stride.
LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points and pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds for the Spurs as four of their starters scored in double figures. Tim Duncan hit for 12 points and gathered eight rebounds in 20 minutes of court time and Tony Parker scored 10 points for San Antonio.
The Spurs, up by one point at halftime, turned up their defense in the third quarter as Detroit shot just 22 percent from the floor and trailed by as many as 17 points. Aldridge scored 13 points in the period.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was pleased with his team’s effort on defense after halftime.
“It was very good,” Popovich remarked in his succinct manner. “We allowed 30 points in the second half. It’s pretty special if you can do that. We played a better second half for sure.”
San Antonio clinched its 19th straight playoff appearance, tying the Boston Celtics (1951-69) for the fourth-longest streak in NBA history. It’s the fewest games needed to clinch a post-season spot in franchise history, excluding strike-shortened seasons.
Aldridge claimed he was not aware that the team clinched a playoff spot.
“It’s something that’s not been talked about in our locker room and I haven’t really been paying attention because I try to stay locked in to what we are doing,” Aldridge said. “It’s not about (the milestones). We have a bigger picture in mind and the guys are focused on that.”
“In the second half we were more active defensively,” Aldridge added. “We were able to keep guys in front of us and we competed harder.”
The victory also allowed the Spurs to lengthen their regular-season home victory streak to 38 games, dating back to an overtime loss to Cleveland last March, and built on their best start in franchise history after 60 games.
The Spurs own the second-longest active playoff streak among the four major professional sports trailing only the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings (24).
Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris scored 16 points each to lead Detroit while reserve Aron Baynes added 12 points and Reggie Jackson hit for 11. Andre Drummond took a game-high 14 rebounds for the Pistons.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak by the Pistons (31-30).
“San Antonio plays great defense but we were very individual on offense in the second half,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We didn’t play together, we didn’t move the ball, we didn’t get second or third options and we played a lot of one on one and forced shots. If you do that against a good defensive team like them, you have no chance.”
Leonard and Aldridge played the entire first quarter and combined for 17 of the Spurs’ points as San Antonio ground out 28-19 advantage after 12 minutes of play. Leonard poured in 11 points in the quarter, including a short jumper with 3.3 second left to grant the Spurs their lead.
San Antonio sent all reserves to the floor to begin the second quarter and the group went scoreless for the first 2:47 of the period, allowing the Pistons to push to a 32-28 lead on a jumper by Morris. The Spurs bench finally responded, as Kyle Anderson and Boris Diaw scored five points each to put San Antonio back in front.
Detroit rolled off a 12-0 run with the help of 3-pointers from reserves Steve Blake and Reggie Bullock, and a running one-hander by Jackson. The Pistons’ charge caught San Antonio’s attention and Leonard had six points in a 12-5 spurt that handed the Spurs a 52-51 lead at halftime.
The third quarter belonged to the Spurs, who outscored Detroit 27-14 and pushed their lead to 79-65. It also marked the first appearance in a San Antonio jersey by veteran guard Andre Miller, who was signed by the Spurs on Feb. 29 after he was waived by the Timberwolves four days earlier.
“The ball just got stuck and San Antonio made us pay for not making them work,” Jackson said. “They continued to find good shots and forced us into bad shots and turnovers. We stopped moving the ball. Sometime you think you have a shot you think you can make when you should make the pass instead -- we were guilty of that tonight.”
Prior to the game, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili announced that he’s been cleared to return to practice after undergoing testicular surgery Feb. 4 from an injury suffered the night before against New Orleans. He went through shoot-around with the Spurs on Wednesday, but the team will hold him out of game action until at least next week.