DALLAS -- Kawhi Leonard made his long-anticipated season debut Tuesday night and looked to be in mid-season form, although his San Antonio Spurs fell apart in the fourth quarter without him and lost to the Dallas Mavericks 95-89 at American Airlines Center.
The Spurs' All-Star forward missed the first 27 games of the season due to a quad injury. Upon returning to the starting lineup, he quickly displayed his all-around excellence, producing 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting and adding six rebounds, one assist, one steal and a block.
He did it all in only 16 minutes as coach Gregg Popovich promised a gradual reintroduction. Leonard's lone offensive rebound was a tip-out to himself that led to a bucket for a 55-50 Spurs lead, and Popovich pulled him soon after.
Leonard made his way to the locker room toward the end of the third quarter, raising a few eyebrows, but his early exit from the floor was apparently for planned treatment.
The Spurs' slippage without Leonard the rest of the way raised Popovich's ire. Dallas, sparked by guard J.J. Barea's aggressive drives to the basket, opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run, went up 91-80 with 4:01 to go and held on to snap the Spurs' four-game winning streak as well as end their own three-game skid.
Dallas (8-20) got the win without speedy rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. However, the Mavericks appeared headed for another loss after forcing the Spurs to play from behind in the first half.
The Mavs' 11-point, second-quarter lead slipped to just 46-44 at halftime, and then a 7-0 run by the Spurs to start the third quarter gave San Antonio its first lead since 2-0.
However, without Leonard, the Spurs' offense missed eight consecutive shots during a 13-1 Dallas run early in the fourth.
NOTES: The Spurs lost in Dallas for the first time in six games. ... San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich needs seven more victories to pass George Karl (1,175) for fifth on the NBA's all-time list. ... Mavs G Dennis Smith Jr. missed his third consecutive game because of a hip injury, and coach Rick Carlisle said he also would miss the next two games at Golden State and San Antonio. ... F Dirk Nowitzki moved five rebounds away from passing Bill Bridges (11,054) for 28th on the league's all-time list.