Kawhi Leonard game winner lifts Spurs, puts him in exclusive company

SAN ANTONIO -- Visual evidence indicates Kawhi Leonard lifted his pivot foot ever so slightly when backing down Paul George to nail the game-winning bucket Wednesday in the San Antonio Spurs' 100-99 triumph over the Indiana Pacers.

Even Pacers coach Nate McMillan "thought he traveled before he took that shot."

Regardless, where Leonard heads now is into San Antonio's history books. He joined an exclusive club with a 31-point effort against Indiana, making him the fourth player in franchise history to produce 20 games with 30-plus points in one season, joining George Gervin (7), David Robinson (4) and Tim Duncan (1).

Leonard improves to 3-for-5 over the past two seasons on potential go-ahead attempts in the final five seconds of a game, a mark that goes down as the best percentage in the NBA on such shots (minimum five attempts), according to ESPN Stats and Information.

"Definitely, it's something you think about when you're a kid and you're in your front yard or at your school playing and you count down 3-2-1 a lot of times," Leonard said. "But I would rather us play a better game and be able to just close it out without leaving the last shot up to me. But that's what happened tonight, and I had to respond for my team."

Leonard poured in 20 of his 31 points in the second half, scoring 11 points in the third and nine points in the fourth quarter.

With 8.5 seconds left to play, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called an isolation play for Leonard on which LaMarcus Aldridge provided the screen that freed Leonard for the game-winning shot on a 16-foot turnaround, fade-away jumper over George with 2.4 seconds remaining.

The Spurs entered the fourth quarter trailing 76-73 in a game that featured 16 lead changes and 13 ties. At one point, Indiana led by as many as nine points.

Leonard and David Lee combined for 18 of San Antonio's 27 points in the fourth quarter. Lee finished the night 8-of-8 from the floor for a season-high 18 points, and Leonard went 11-of-22.

"He does that every night," Popovich said of Leonard. "I mean, everybody worked hard. Kawhi is obviously a talented young man, and he knocked down the last shot. But it's always a team effort. I thought we hung tough. We didn't play that sharp. Usually, your first game after a long road trip is pretty tough. We didn't shoot well in the first half, and they hung in there. The mental toughness showed. They just kept playing, kept playing. We made a lot of mistakes, but they played through them. That was the best part of the game."

Veteran reserve guard Manu Ginobili compared Wednesday's matchup to a playoff game and said he expects the Spurs will see more of these types of contests in May.

"It felt like a playoff game, a grind-it-out type of game," Ginobili said. "Very good, solid defenses, fights for boards, tough contests. I think it was a very hard-played game."

Leonard entered the game averaging a career-high 25.8 points per game. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he's one of just three players to increase his points per game in each of the past five seasons, joining Gordon Hayward (six straight) and Jimmy Butler.

The contest against the Pacers was San Antonio's first at the AT&T Center since Feb. 4, and the Spurs took the court without starting point guard Tony Parker, who was held out with a quadriceps contusion. Rookie Dejounte Murray started in Parker's place and finished with six assists.

The Spurs connected on just 39.5 percent from the floor in the first half and trailed 49-47 at the intermission.

"I was talking to Manu," Lee said. "I don't know what the reason is, but that first game back from a long road trip always just seems like it's a grind, and guys aren't always at their best. It wasn't from a lack of effort. I thought we played really, really hard tonight, and Indiana is a tough team, and they were hitting shots. So those are the kinds of games you have to find a way to win, and I thought our defense kept us in the game, even though we weren't making shots. Then we were able to find a way at the end, and Kawhi makes an unbelievable shot. So it was a great win for us, and these are the ones you look back at the end of the season and say, 'These are the games you've got to win.'"