SPURS OVERRUN CAVALIERS
San Antonio drop Cleveland to second in East, Westbrook’s Thunder roar back
KAWHI Leonard scored 25 points and left to a standing ovation Monday as the San Antonio Spurs humbled the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 less than three weeks before the start of the playoffs.
The late-season glamour match-up in San Antonio fizzled as the Spurs took control in the first quarter thanks not only through stars like Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge but also to stellar play from their reserves.
Adding to the misery for Cleveland, Cavs superstar LeBron James took an elbow just above the shoulder blades from Spurs David Lee in the waning seconds of the third quarter that sent him slumping to the court.
He stayed there for several scary minutes before making his way to the bench and with the Cavs trailing 81-58 going into the fouth quarter didn’t return to the court.
James scored 17 points before departing, but the Cavs endured their ninth defeat in 15 games in March.
The Cavaliers connected on just 37.3 per cent of their shots from the floor and for the first time since November 2015 fell out of first place in the Eastern Conference as their record fell to 47-26. The Boston Celtics now lead the East at 48-26.
The Spurs posted their fifth straight win and at 57-16 pulled within two games of the Golden State Warriors in the race for the best record in the league and the Western Conference lead.
Pau Gasol scored 14 points and Manu Ginobili chipped in 12 for the Spurs, who host the Warriors on Wednesday.
While the San Antonio crowed was geared up for a playoff-caliber contest, the Spurs soon took all suspense out of the proceedings, using a 17-8 run over the final half of the first quarter to take a 28-18 lead.
The Spurs’ bench were big contributors, out-scoring Cleveland’s bench 15-0 in the first quarter and 28-0 in the first half.
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook drained a pull-up jump shot with 7.1 seconds remaining to cap the Thunder’s thrilling comeback for a 92-91 victory over the Mavericks in Dallas.
Westbrook scored 37 points – 16 of them in the fourth quarter – with 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his third straight triple-double and his 37th of the season.
He needs four more triple-doubles to tie Oscar Robertson’s single-season record of 41 set in 1961-62.
Although Oklahoma City were down much of the contest, they finished on a 14-0 scoring run – Westbrook posting a dozen points in the surge to victory.
Elsewhere, the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors posted their sixth straight victory, 131-112 over the Orlando Magic.
The New York Knicks dealt the Detroit Pistons’ playoff hopes a blow with a 109-95 victory.
The defeat dropped the Pistons 1 1/2 games behind the Miami Heat for the eighth and final
playoff spot in the East. AFP
Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith (left) tries to block a dunk by Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard in their NBA game on Monday.