SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili returned to give the short-handed San Antonio Spurs a needed boost as they remained perfect at home and extended the franchise’s best start.
Kawhi Leonard had 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ginobili added a season-high 22 points in his return from a gruesome injury, leading San Antonio to a 104-94 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night as the Spurs improved to 30-0 at home this season.
San Antonio won its eighth straight and extended its franchise-record start through 62 games to 53-9 despite the absence of starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Danny Green.
Ginobili played 15 minutes in his return from a 12-game absence, shooting 8 for 11 and showing no physical or psychological effects from testicle surgery on Feb. 5.
"What happened on the court was very unexpected," Ginobili said. "When (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) told me I was going to play a few minutes, I said, ‘Great.’ It’s OK if I don’t shoot, I just want to play, and then the game developed like that. It felt good."
Wearing a protective cup, the 38-year-old veteran fearlessly drove between Sacramento’s Willie Cauley-Stein and Omri Casspi from the right side of the key to score on a left-handed layup on the left side of the rim in the third quarter. Ginobili earlier stood in front of a charging Cauley-Stein and fouled the 7-foot centre while stripping him of the ball on the layup attempt.
"It was kind of unexpected his first game back," Sacramento reserve guard Darren Collison said. "You would think he would have a little bit rust, but he’s a Hall of Fame player for a reason. He’s a real good player; he’s been doing that for a very long time. He was slicing and dicing our defence, whether it was with the pass or the shot. As soon as he came in the game, he gave them a good lift."
The dynamic Argentine’s return was a needed boost with Duncan and Green sitting out to rest and Aldridge out due to a migraine headache. David West had 12 points and Boris Diaw added 11 points in place of Duncan and Aldridge. The Spurs’ reserves outscored the Kings’ backups 54-26 despite having a few of its key personnel in the starting lineup.
"I didn’t think three of their starters were out," Sacramento coach George Karl said. "Pop rotates that team, if Danny Green isn’t giving it, someone else will give it. It’s a bunch of revolving pieces."
DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo had an easier time running the pick-and-roll with Duncan and Aldridge out. Quincy Acy also benefited early, scoring 14 points in the first half on 6-for-6 shooting. Cousins finished with 31 points.
Acy only had two points in the second half, though, as the Spurs’ interior defence stiffened.
Sacramento, which went scoreless for six minutes in a loss to Memphis on Wednesday, was unable to score in the opening 5 1/2 minutes of the second half.
"The last three games our second halves have been really good defensively," Popovich said.
Kings: Rondo had nine points and eight assists in 37 minutes despite a multitude of ailments. The Kings’ point guard has a right ankle sprain, sprained right thumb, sprained right first metatarsophalangeal joint sprain and turf toe. … C Kostas Koufos missed the game with food poisoning. … The Kings have lost seven straight in San Antonio. Their last victory here was Jan. 20, 2012.
Spurs: San Antonio has the fourth-longest home winning streak in league history, breaking a tie with the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. The Golden State Warriors have won 44 straight home games dating back to last season, tying the ’95-’96 Bulls for the league’s longest winning streak. … Simmons made his first career start, filling in for Green. The rookie missed his only two shots, going scoreless in 16 minutes.
Karl was disappointed, but not surprised his team lost its seventh straight on San Antonio’s home court.
"There have been a lot of teams disappointed on this court," he said. "San Antonio I think is really unique. I think that’s the difference between San Antonio and Golden State. Golden State is playing spectacular, this team just doesn’t make mistakes, this team is just solid."
Ginobili did not alter his game in his first game back since taking a knee to the groin from New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson. The injury required surgery, which Ginobili underwent in the early morning hours of Feb. 5 following the Spurs’ victory over the Pelicans on Feb. 4.
Ginobili said he was not concerned about aggravating the injury.
"Not at all," Ginobili said. "The area that is fragile is protected. So I’ve been testing it, playing in the (practice) facility. I’m not worried. I know I’m not going to play like this every game. But that (injury) is not going to be the issue, that I hesitating or not confident."
Kings: At New Orleans on Monday.
Spurs: At Indiana on Monday.