By RAUL DOMINGUEZ The Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO — With both of their All-Star wings healthy and in the lineup together, the Clippers hope this is the beginning of an extended look at what they are capable of when they are at or near full strength. Friday night was a step in the right direction.
Kawhi Leonard scored a season-high 36 points against his former team, and the Clippers snapped a two-game skid by beating the San Antonio Spurs, 131-126, at the AT&T Center.
The Clippers had lost nine of their previous 11 games, but Coach Tyronn Lue believed this game could mark the start of a turnaround for his team.
“I felt it this morning,” Lue said. “I think having our guys back and everyone going back to their natural roles helps us out a lot. With Kawhi and PG (Paul George) on the floor, we play at a high level.”
The Clippers had seven players score in double figures, including Norman Powell with 26 points (on 9-for-11 shooting) and George with 16 points and 12 assists.
The Clippers shot 63% from the field, 54% from 3-point range and had 31 assists.
Keldon Johnson had 23 points for San Antonio, which has lost nine of 11. Josh Richardson added 17 points, Zach Collins had a season-high 17 and Jeremy Sochan had 16.
Leonard and George played together for just the third time in January. Leonard put on a show on the court where he won NBA Finals MVP in 2014 with the Spurs.
After losing 15 pounds, Leonard looked spry and had three thunderous dunks.
“I’m feeling a lot lighter, moving a lot bit better out there,” Leonard said. “I’m feeling pretty good. Played a few games in a row.”
The 6-foot-7 forward was 13 for 18 from the field and 4 for 5 from 3-point range while adding seven assists, four rebounds and two steals.
“He was great,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s one of the finest players in the league. We are talking about the very top of the list – he’s with those guys.”
Leonard scored 13 points in just under 3½ minutes starting midway through the third quarter to give the Clippers a 93-90 lead. Leonard had three 3-pointers and a vicious left-handed dunk during the run.
San Antonio did not have an individual answer for Leonard but responded by shooting 57% from the field and 54% on 3-pointers to go along with 34 assists.
“We won this game tonight because we made shots,” Leonard said. “They shot 57% and we shot 63. We definitely have to get better. We’re not going to shoot 63% every night. We’ve got to make sure their percentages are a lot lower than that. We still need to improve. We’ve got a lot to improve on if we want to be a great team.”
The Clippers set an opponent high with 41 points in the opening quarter, besting the mark they shared with 40 points against the Spurs in the opening quarter on Nov. 19. San Antonio responded by holding the Clippers to 24 points in the second quarter.
“The team, I thought, was spectacular,” Popovich said. “They never give in. They are playing more physically than they have all year. They are assisting, playing the right way. Those guys made shots down the stretch, and oftentimes, that’s the difference. But I was really proud of our guys. They did a great job.”
Clippers: Poing guard John Wall remains out with an abdominal strain and guard Luke Kennard missed another game with his sore right calf. … Forward Marcus Morris received a technical foul with 47 seconds remaining in the first half after continually talking to Sochan as the two stood across from each other at the free-throw line. Morris’ twin brother, Markieff, got into a skirmish with Sochan on Tuesday. Sochan tumbled to the court and took Morris with him after the Brooklyn Nets forward set a hard screen shortly after Sochan put three fingers in his face following a 3-pointer.
Can struggling Clippers embrace ‘sense of urgency’ in time?
Swanson: NBA ‘Snitch’ changing the game with his viral critiques
Depleted Clippers no match for Lauri Markkanen, Jazz
Clippers get Paul George back, but Joel Embiid, 76ers spoil the party
John Wall’s injury the latest issue for Clippers’ rotation
Spurs: San Antonio assistant coach Brett Brown missed the game due to “personal business,” according to the team. … The Spurs finished a four-game homestand at 1-3. … San Antonio signed veteran center Gorgui Dieng to a second 10-day contract.
Leonard was cheered by the Spurs fans for the first time since demanding a trade and leaving San Antonio in 2018.
Leonard was honored before the game with a video highlighting his seven seasons in San Antonio. There was a smattering of boos, but nothing to the level of jeers he received in previous appearances in San Antonio.
“It’s been a long journey,” Leonard said. “The fans are very competitive here. When I’m at the games you might hear boos, but if I’m walking on the street or going to restaurants, people come up to me and still tell me how much they love my game and like me as a person. So, I know it’s just a competition once I’m here. I understand.”
The Clippers play at Dallas on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. PT.
— NBA (@NBA) January 21, 2023