LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — Kawhi Leonard delivered 38 points, Montrezl Harrell chipped in 24 and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated San Antonio 103-97 on Thursday to knock the Spurs off their undefeated perch.
Leonard, who did not dress for Wednesday’s game at Utah so he could rest, also grabbed 12 rebounds for his first double-double this season.
“I have the heart of a champion and I just tried to stay focused,” said Leonard, who played seven seasons with the Spurs from 2011 to 2018.
Leonard has now scored 30 or more points in three of his first five games with the Clippers, who he signed with as a free agent during the offseason.
DeMar DeRozan scored 29 points and Derrick White added 20 for the Spurs, who suffered their first loss of the young season dropping to 3-1.
After so much time with the Spurs, Leonard’s relationship with the team eventually deteriorated. He was traded in July 2018 to the Toronto Raptors in a deal that sent DeRozan to Texas.
Leonard went on to lead the Raptors to their first NBA title last season in a six-game victory against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. But the title wasn’t enough to keep Leonard in Toronto.
The Spurs were eliminated in the first round last year by the Denver Nuggets.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Leonard didn’t develop into one of the best players in the league by accident. He is one of the hardest-working players on and off the court in the NBA.
“From where he started from to where he is at now is amazing,” said Rivers of Leonard who had 25 points in the second half. “Every young player who has a chance to see the work should understand you don’t get better without the work.”
Los Angeles seized control of the contest with a 9-1 run to take a 64-55 lead with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter.
Leonard scored five of his 10 third-quarter points during the rally, including stealing the ball off DeRozan and going in for a dunk.
San Antonio got within five at the end of the third quarter before the Clippers scored 11 of the first 13 points in the fourth quarter. San Antonio clawed their way back to make it 97-93 late in the fourth but the Clippers held on for the win.
Best rookie start
Elsewhere, undrafted guard Kendrick Nunn scored a career-high 28 points to power the Miami Heat to a 106-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Nunn has exploded on the scene as an NBA rookie and is now the all-time leader for most points through the first five games for an undrafted player in league history with 112 points.
Connie Hawkins of the Phoenix Suns scored 105 points in his first five games of the 1969-70 season.
“It’s surreal a little bit… All I needed was the opportunity,” said Nunn, who scored 14 points in the third quarter.
Nunn has scored at least 24 points three times in Miami’s first five games, including a 24 point performance against Memphis in his opening game on October 23.
Also, Jahlil Okafor scored 26 points, Brandon Ingram dropped in 25 and the host New Orleans Pelicans beat the Denver Nuggets 122-107 for their first victory in five games.
© Agence France-Presse