Kawhi Leonard makes big plays in San Antonio Spurs' win over Houston Rockets

By Steve Habel, The Sports Xchange
Kawhi Leonard makes big plays in San Antonio Spurs' win over Houston Rockets
Kawhi Leonard poured in an off-balance 3-pointer to give the Spurs the lead, then ran the floor to block a layup attempt by James Harden on the opposite end to propel the Spurs past the Houston Rockets 112-110 on Monday at the AT&T Center. File Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher/UPI | License Photo

March 7 (UPI) -- SAN ANTONIO - There is just no stopping San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, who continues to make highlight-reel plays on a game-in and game-out basis while responding to his MVP candidacy with his "aw-shucks" attitude.

Leonard poured in an off-balance 3-pointer to give the Spurs the lead, then ran the floor to block a layup attempt by James Harden on the opposite end to propel the Spurs past the Houston Rockets 112-110 on Monday at the AT&T Center in a Texas Showdown between two of the top three teams in the NBA.


After a Harden free throw with 39 seconds to play put the Rockets in front 108-107, Leonard moved to his left and hit his 3-pointer from above the top of the key to give the Spurs a 110-108 lead. He then chased down the streaking Harden, who went to the rim but was slowed by the Spurs' David Lee. Leonard blocked Harden's shot on its way up a millisecond before it hit the backboard.


"I was just thinking that I had to get back and get a stop," Leonard said of his block. "I saw Harden get an easy lane to the basket and I tried to chase him down and time him up. David (Lee) did a good job of not letting Harden get athletic by jumping straight up and it helped me get the block."

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Following his block, Leonard's two free throws with 14.5 second remaining iced the game, gave him 39 points and provided San Antonio with its eighth straight victory. Seventeen of Leonard's points came in the fourth quarter and it was the 23rd time this season that he scored 30-plus points in a game.

"That block is what makes Kawhi special," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Obviously the threes -- you know Harden makes threes, Steph (Curry) makes threes, this guy makes threes, that guy makes threes -- everybody does that. But I don't know who goes to the other end and does what Kawhi does. He wanted it badly, and he went and took it."

Tony Parker added 19 points for the Spurs (49-13) while LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points for San Antonio, which took the season series with Houston 3-1.

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Harden scored 39 points and distributed 12 assists for the Rockets (44-20). The double-double was Harden's league-leading 50th of the season.

"Things just didn't go our way," Harden said. "A couple of calls that were extremely questionable just kind of messed up our flow a little bit. We fought hard; it came down to a one-possession game, which is going to happen in the postseason. We didn't win -- we'll move on to the next game."

Trevor Ariza added 13 points, Clint Capela and Eric Gordon had 12 points apiece and Patrick Beverley hit for 11 points and took 10 rebounds for Houston.

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Harden was on target early on, torching the Spurs for 18 points and six assists in the first quarter as Houston shot 69.6 percent from the floor and built a 39-23 lead after 12 minutes of play. The Rockets were 4 of 9 from 3-point range in the period, with three of those baskets from beyond the arc coming from Harden.

San Antonio's defense helped cool off the Rockets in the second quarter as Houston made just 6 of its 22 shots (27.3 percent) in the period, and the Spurs surged back to get to within 54-47 at intermission.


Harden, who sat out the first six minutes of the second period as is his norm, led all scorers with 23 points and seven assists in the first half. Leonard paced the Spurs with 14 points while Aldridge added nine points for San Antonio.

The two teams combined to take just seven free throws in the first half, as Harden was 3 for 3 from the line and Aldridge was 3 for 4.

Harden keyed a 15-7 run by the Rockets in the first five minutes of the third quarter as Houston built its lead back to 69-56 as the Spurs looked as if they were stuck in neutral. But like the flip of a switch, San Antonio found its stride, getting a 3-pointer from Danny Green followed by back-to-back threes from Parker and a dunk by Lee off a Leonard drive and dish that cut the Rockets' advantage to 69-67 at the 5:23 mark of the third quarter.

The Spurs roared to the lead two minutes later as Parker hit a layup and Lee again rocked the rim with a dunk on a Leonard feed. But the Rockets responded to carry an 82-81 lead into the final quarter, setting the table for a furious finish.


"San Antonio is good and they have the bar where it should be," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We have to get over the bar and we've been close. I thought we had a good shot tonight. Kawhi is a great player and he hit some big shots. James Harden had a phenomenal game, and it was a great contest -- they came away at the end."


-- Spurs F Kawhi Leonard was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for games played Feb. 27-March 5. Leonard is the fifth player in Spurs franchise history to be named Player of the Week at least four times, joining George Gervin (four), Tony Parker (eight), David Robinson (14) and Tim Duncan (23).

-- Rockets G James Harden now has 21 games this season with at least 30 points and 10 assists, equaling the total of such games in his career before 2016-17.

-- The Spurs hold the record for highest field-goal percentage by a Rockets' opponent when they went going 48-71 (67.6 percent) from the field on April 7, 1985.

-- Houston set a record for offensive rebounds against a San Antonio opponent on April 13, 1984, when the Rockets took 35.


-- Houston returns home to face Utah on Wednesday while the Spurs play the fourth of 12 home games in March when Sacramento visits the Alamo City in Wednesday.

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