San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said he knew Kawhi Leonard would be rusty in his first game back after sitting out the previous three. However, his stellar performance would give the Silver and Black a win on the second night of a back-to-back.
Leonard finished with a game-high 29 points as he led the Spurs to a 96-78 win over the Utah Jazz inside the Vivint Smart Home Arena on Thursday night as to continue their Rodeo Road Trip.
Tony Parker added 16 points and six assists for San Antonio’s balanced attack. LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 and Tim Duncan chipped in 14 points for the Spurs as they used a fourth quarter surge to pull away.
“This is the best game since we came back from break,” Popovich said. “We had been really spotty and undisciplined, but what really helped us is that they are so good at execution. It actually helped us tonight because they used the whole clock and we had to play (defense) over and over.”
Utah held a seven point lead in the first quarter, but the Spurs defense held the Jazz to just 12 points in the second as they outscored Utah 21-12 in the period to take a four-point lead into halftime.
San Antonio never trailed in the second half, but had to fight off a stubborn Utah team who is fighting for their playoff lives as we get into the stretch run. The Spurs outscored Utah 31-21 in the final quarter and built a 20-point lead in the process.
“We had to grind this one out more, they’ve been playing well,” Aldridge said. “You need games like this. You don’t want to have blowouts all the time. You want to try to work on execution down the stretch and I thought we definitely played better down the stretch.”
The Jazz were led by Derrick Favors’ 25 points on 12-of-17 shooting. Rodney Hood added 12 points for Utah (28-29), who remain a half-game behind the Houston Rockets for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Spurs are now 49-9 on the season and will wrap up their Rodeo Road Trip on Saturday in Houston against James Harden and the Rockets at 7 p.m. inside the Toyota Center.