SAN ANTONIO — This trip looked a lot like Kawhi Leonard‘s last game in San Antonio.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Derrick White each had 17 points, and the Spurs beat Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers 107-97 on Friday night.
"They wanted it more and it showed tonight," Clippers guard Patrick Beverly said. "You’ve got to congratulate them. They came in here with an edge, with more of a thirst, and it showed."
The Spurs stopped the Clippers’ seven-game win streak in Leonard’s second appearance in San Antonio as an opponent. Leonard finished with 19 points on 8-for-23 shooting.
"This wasn’t just any old team," San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan said. "It’s a high-calibre team in our conference. We went out there and compete, compete, compete and the outcome came out our way."
San Antonio had lost two straight and 12 of 14, but it found its footing against Los Angeles and its former teammate.
Leonard spent his first seven seasons in San Antonio before demanding a trade. He was shipped off to Toronto and won his second NBA Finals MVP last season before joining the Clippers as a free agent.
Leonard’s initial return to San Antonio on Jan. 24 resulted in thunderous boos and a 125-107 loss for the Raptors. Friday’s game had a similar feel.
"Uhm, didn’t make nothing of it," Leonard said of the reception. "Felt like a normal away game."
It may have been routine for Leonard, but it was an exception for the Spurs (7-13) in their worst start in 23 seasons.
"Everybody, right down the line, everybody was aggressive, picking up the way we need to," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "We just need to do it more often and get more consistent."
Leonard received a chorus of boos during pregame introductions and whenever he touched the ball. The level of vitriol increased throughout the game, especially with the Spurs having by far their best game of the season.
Leonard missed his first three shots before collecting a steal at the free-throw line and sprinting down court for an uncontested dunk as the Clippers led by as many as eight points in the first quarter.
Marco Belinelli helped the Spurs move in front, making a 3-pointer and a no-look pass to Trey Lyles for a 32-30 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
"We had a couple stretches tonight where we just put runs together," Spurs centre Jakob Poeltl said. "Really came out strong with energy on the defensive end. Then all of a sudden, the shots start falling and it really got us going."
Poeltl, who was acquired by San Antonio in the Leonard deal, continued the momentum with four points and three blocks in a pivotal run in the second quarter, including two blocks on Leonard that drew deafening cheers.
"Whenever one guy hustles, makes a big play, that ignites us on the bench and on the floor and gets our crowd going," said DeRozan, who also came over in the Leonard trade.
Patty Mills’ 3-pointer with 10:32 remaining gave the Spurs an 81-71 lead, prompting a timeout from the Clippers. The Spurs made five 3-pointers in the final quarter, going 14 for 36 from beyond the arc for the game.
DeRozan had 15 points, and Poeltl had six points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.
Paul George had a season-low five points on 2-for-11 shooting for the Clippers.
INSULT TO INJURY
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was locked out of the locker room after finishing his postgame press conference.
"Fitting," Rivers deadpanned. "That’s the kind of night it’s been for us."
Popovich has encouraged White to shoot 3-pointers even though he has struggled at times this season. White responded with a career-high five on 5-for-7 shooting from deep.
"I think I’m going to take like 20 next game," White said. "Just try to get the looks that I get, let it fly, shoot with confidence."
Clippers: Landry Shamet missed his 10th straight game with a sprained left ankle. Shamet, who has started all 10 games he has played, is averaging 9.1 points in 29.4 minutes.
Spurs: The Spurs played their 700th game at the AT&T Center since it opened in 2002. They have the most wins at home of any team during that span with 564 victories.
Clippers: Host Washington on Saturday night.
Spurs: At Detroit on Saturday night.