SAN ANTONIO -- For those who pulled a Rip Van Winkle and slept through nearly the first half of the NBA season, then just happened to see Kawhi Leonard's performance in the San Antonio Spurs' 109-97 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday at the AT&T Center, it might have appeared as just another dominant game for the star forward in a campaign that plods along until playoff time.
However, considering that Leonard missed 30 of the Spurs' first 35 games because of a right quadriceps injury, the fact that he scored a season-high 21 points while seeing the court for a season-most 26 minutes Tuesday actually represented a bit of a return to normalcy for San Antonio. That could spell a whole lot of trouble for future Spurs opponents.
"Every game we see a little more of the rust go off, a little of the hesitation goes away," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Leonard. "We are trying to fit in his game and get him feeling comfortable with the ball. Every game is a little bit better."
Leonard said he felt good but still is not at his best. It is taking him a while to get through the process of playing limited minutes and getting back into the flow with his team. He was not surprised when Popovich asked him to return to the court with the game on the line.
"I had been just trying to stay ready in case he called me," Leonard said. "The hardest things have been finding my wind, running the play calls, building the chemistry again, the defensive rotations -- really everything. I have been taking my time, not skipping any steps, so I can be healthy and ready down the road."
San Antonio led 94-86 with 5:05 to play when Leonard re-entered the game, marking the first time this season he played in the fourth quarter. The Spurs scored six of the next eight points in the ensuing 67 seconds, pushing the advantage to 12 points.
San Antonio's LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Pau Gasol nabbed his third double-double in a row with 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Tony Parker scored 14 points, and Patty Mills and Ginobili tallied 11 each for the Spurs (24-11).
Caris LeVert hit on 8 of 11 shots and led Brooklyn with 18 points. Allen Crabbe contributed 15, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit for 13 points and Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen had 12 points apiece for the Nets (12-21). Quincy Acy contributed 10 rebounds.
San Antonio extended its regular-season home win streak over the Nets to 15 games, dating to Jan. 22, 2002.
"They're physical and they take you out of your stuff," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "We did a great job of driving the ball -- we were at the rim all night. We'll do it again tomorrow night, and then the night after and keep doing it. We have to finish better, too."
The Nets led 42-41 with 2:18 to play in the second quarter before San Antonio finished the period with a 9-2 run to take a 50-44 advantage to halftime.
Leonard's 14 points in 15 first-half minutes led the Spurs and represented the top point total in his five games this season. Aldridge had 10 points at halftime for San Antonio.
Crabbe and LeVert paced the Nets with just nine points apiece in the first half.
Crabbe's 3-pointer at the 8:55 mark of the third quarter tied the game at 54, but the rest of the period belonged to San Antonio. The Spurs ripped off an 11-0 run to forge a 65-54 lead, and the home team led 80-69 entering the final quarter.
"We came back from their run, but the Spurs stayed poised and true to their system and got the shots they wanted," Nets forward DeMarre Carroll said. "It just shows you the kind of composure you have to have to be a winning team at a high level."
NOTES: The Tuesday game was the first time all season that San Antonio had every player on its roster available and healthy. ... Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was assessed a technical foul at the 6:45 mark of the third quarter after coming on the court and vehemently arguing an offensive foul call on C Tyler Zeller. ... Brooklyn began its seventh set of back-to-back games this season, as the Nets play Wednesday in New Orleans. The Nets are now 4-3 in the first game of back-to-backs in 2017-18. ... The Nets' most recent road win over the Spurs came on June 6, 2003, in Game 2 of the 2003 NBA Finals. ... The Spurs play host to the New York Knicks on Thursday.