NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kawhi Leonard again had San Antonio teammates marveling at his uncanny ability to spur comebacks with clutch plays on both ends of the court.
Leonard scored 31 points, made one steal in the final minute of regulation and another in overtime, and San Antonio beat New Orleans 101-98 on Friday night.
“This year, his scoring has picked up from previous seasons, but he still makes big-time plays when he plays on our defensive end and that’s what I think defines the best players,” Spurs forward Pau Gasol said. “These are game-winning plays, championship-caliber type of plays.”
LeMarcus Aldridge had 21 points and 15 rebounds to help the Spurs win their sixth straight. Patty Mills scored 15 points, highlighted by two clutch 3s in overtime. Gasol added 13 points, including a momentum-changing, left-corner 3 when the Spurs trailed by five in overtime. The shot sparked an 8-0 run that gave the Spurs the lead for good.
Cousins had 19 points and 23 rebounds, but missed a step-back 3-pointer that could have tied it as overtime ended. Anthony Davis had 29 points, and Jrue Holiday 26 for the Pelicans.
“We had some costly turnovers, I know I threw one,” Cousins said. “It was just bad execution down the stretch. They were the better team down the stretch.”
The first of Leonard’s big steals came as Holiday dribbled across half court with the Pelicans leading by three in the final minute. Leonard then bolted the other way for a dunk that made it a one-point game.
“I was just trying to play the best defense I could,” Leonard said. “We needed a stop and the ball ended up falling in my hands.”
San Antonio tied it with 6.6 seconds left in regulation when Gasol hit one of two free throws.
Holiday missed an off-balance 17-footer for the win as regulation ended, but New Orleans raced to a five-point lead in overtime when Holiday hit a 3 and then made a steal to set up Davis’ fast-break dunk.
The ever-composed Spurs quickly tied it on Gasol’s 3 and Aldridge’s layup. Leonard then snuffed out Cousins’ attempted bounce pass to Holiday and pushed the ball up to Mills for a transition 3 that put San Antonio back in front, 97-94 with 2:17 left in overtime.
“When the game’s on the line, there are players that are able to step up their game to another level, and it’s hard when you play as many minutes and carry as much load as (Leonard) does on the offensive end,” Gasol said. “Without those two critical steals, we wouldn’t have won the game. Obviously, a lot of plays were part of the game, but those plays were exceptional.”
After Mills’ 3 went through, Cousins snatched the ball and disgustedly mashed it against his forehead.
Mills added another 3 from the right corner with 1:14 left in OT to make it 100-96. Falling out of bounds after the shot, Mills triumphantly punched the air with his right fist as he rose to his feet.