Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Gregg Popovich warned the media scrum before his team's 100-80 win that this Toronto team was one that gave the Spurs problems; that this was a little bit like San Antonio's game against Miami with reversed roles. The Raptors were without Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, and for at least one half Pop was right. Well, nearly a half.
In the waning moments of the second quarter, Kawhi Leonard swooped in, stole a Jose Calderon pass and took it the length of the floor for the dunk as the Spurs went into the break with a seven-point lead. It was only one moment in what had been a close contest up to that point, but it was the kind of game-changing action that was sorely missed in the five weeks Leonard was absent with tendinitis.
San Antonio, up 44-37 at halftime, methodically pulled away in the second half by outscoring the Raptors 56-43 in the final two quarters and stopping their five-game winning streak.
Manu Ginobili -- who scored 14 points on only six shots -- said afterward it was the steal and dunk from Leonard at the end of the first half that energized the team on a night it had been lacking in that department.
"(Leonard's presence is) huge for us. First of all, because he is one of the only true small forwards we've got with size and strength to guard big opponents," Ginobili said. "With his length and ability to read situations, he can get a lot of deflections and steals that give you a good lift in some parts of the game."
The Spurs forced 17 Toronto turnovers -- including 11 steals (28 in the last two games) -- highlighting one of the areas in which Leonard makes his presence most felt. San Antonio held the Raptors to 42 percent shooting and outrebounded them 44-35, while also winning the battle of points in the paint (34-18), second-chance (16-7) and fast-break points (13-2).
There was no 20-for-30 three-point barrage on this night, but an 8-for-19 effort will get the job done on most nights a team holds its opponent to just 80 points.
"There were a lot of clips at halftime that Pop showed us," Tim Duncan (15 points, six boards) said in regard to his team's defense. "Although we were doing pretty decent defensively, we upped our pace offensively and got a few more stops and opened it up."
It was impressive the way San Antonio was able to maintain without Leonard and Stephen Jackson while the two were sitting with injuries, but the makeshift lineup had run its course. Pop said with everything being asked of guys like Danny Green and Gary Neal, the amount of energy expended had taken its toll by the recent road swing during which the Spurs lost four consecutive road games. He even went as far as saying he believes it was one of the reasons this team is now without Neal for the time being.
But with Jack and Leonard back in the fold, the Spurs can be more physical without overexerting themselves. Leonard scored only nine points against the Raptors but led the Spurs with 10 rebounds. The rest of the Spurs' starting lineup had 15 combined. Not only that, but he also accounted for nearly 23 percent of the team's individual rebounds. Couple that with the three steals and his contributions in the hustle department are what make him the type of player that's been so valuable to Popovich.
"He's always been that way since he's been here. We didn't teach him that," Pop said. "He just has a natural affinity for being the right place at the right time. He reads things and understands the spatial situation and he gets himself involved in it."
The Spurs are just happy Leonard's involved at all.
-- Not one of the Raptors starters managed to score in double-digits, combining for 27 points as a unit. But four bench players scored at least 11 points for Toronto.
-- Five Spurs scored in double-figures, including Duncan, Ginobili, Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter.
-- San Antonio went to the line 29 times to Toronto's 12 attempts. Spurs: 24-for-29. Raptors: 7-for-12.