The San Antonio Spurs extended their winning streak to 10 games and remain unbeaten at home following Thursday’s highly anticipated contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose eight-game streak was snapped in the 99-95 defeat.
San Antonio trailed by as many as 15 and didn’t take its first lead until midway through the third quarter, but the Spurs tallied runs of 11-0 and 13-0 in the second half then rode their relentless defense to victory.
Every aspect of Thursday’s come-from-behind win was trademark Spurs—perfectly noted by Dan McCarney of NBA.com:
Vintage anaconda defense from the Spurs. Slowly but surely smothering the Cavs to metaphoric death.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneyNBA) January 15, 2016
Cleveland started the game on a 12-2 run and led by as many as 15 in the second quarter before San Antonio crept its way back, only trailing five times after taking its first lead with seven minutes, 50 seconds left in the third.
The Cavs appeared to regain momentum on a Matthew Dellavedova three-pointer to take a 73-72 lead to end the third, but San Antonio once again responded with its second double-digit run in the second half.
During that stretch, the Cavs shot 0-of-6 with two turnovers, four fouls and a goaltending violation.
Cleveland trimmed the margin from 10 points to four in the final minute, but it proved too little, too late.
Nonetheless, it was a closely contested game that even the Cavs’ SB Nation affiliate gave a tip of its hat to:
Cavs spurs is so consistently delicious— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) January 15, 2016
The Spurs have found a haven at the AT&T Center as one of just two teams, along with the Golden State Warriors, that are unbeaten at home.
It’s not just that they’re winning at home—they’re doing so comfortably, now 23-0 within their own confines.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted how the Spurs' dominance in the fourth quarter has been the root of their success at home:
After trailing for the first 1:07 of the 4th, the Spurs have now trailed for a total of 2 minutes in the 4th quarter at home this season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2016
One of the most intriguing storylines entering the game was the matchup pitting Kawhi Leonard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, against LeBron James, one of the game’s toughest to defend.
During the pregame telecast, TNT analyst Charles Barkley called Leonard, who finished with a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds), “The best player in the world”:
Charles Barkley calls Kawhi Leonard the best player in the world https://t.co/HQyEPJSm4Z— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 15, 2016
At times Thursday, Leonard proved Barkley’s case—particularly when going one-on-one with James, whom Barkley also noted was among the game's best along with Golden State's Stephen Curry.
At one point, Leonard halted James on a blocked shot while the King drove the lane in trademark fashion, courtesy of the NBA on TNT:
Leonard also showed flashes of offensive brilliance, shooting 6-of-14 to go with his double-double.
Ironically, both James and Leonard tied with a game-high four turnovers.
James finished 9-of-17 from the field for a team-high 22 points. San Antonio's Tony Parker scored a game-high 24 points and held Kyrie Irving to 6-of-17 shooting. David West, with 13 points, was the only other Spur to eclipse double digits.
The Spurs have consistently been a challenge for James, most notably in his 2014 NBA Finals loss in what was the four-time MVP's final outing with the Miami Heat.
Bleacher Report shared a graphic before Thursday's game that encompassed James’ struggles against San Antonio:
Because of Golden State’s record run this season as it embarks on its second straight title quest, San Antonio’s incredible pace has been largely overlooked.
As Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post noted, the Spurs' style of play is hard not to appreciate:
Man, the Spurs are so unbelievably fun to watch.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) January 15, 2016
Though the Warriors are rightfully looked upon as the favorites to repeat as champions—they’re 36-3 and have shown few signs of vulnerability—Thursday’s gritty, gutsy duel between the Cavs and Spurs could very well be an NBA Finals preview.
The Cavs, at this stage of the season, don’t have many roadblocks in the Eastern Conference, and the Spurs have held pace with the Warriors all season, trailing by only two games in the Western Conference.
Leonard naturally drew much acclaim following the win, and one teammate believes he should be in consideration for MVP, per ESPN's Michael C. Wright:
Manu Ginobili just said Kawhi Leonard is a top 5 MVP candidate.— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) January 15, 2016
Boris Diaw took to Twitter to lay claim to the home-court advantage and thank the fans for their contributions:
It was a tough one, both teams were on a good streak but it's OUR home!!! Thanks fans for the kind messages and cheers during the game! 🌙— Boris Diaw (@theborisdiaw) January 15, 2016
Despite the loss—which at this point in the season is merely a measurement of how teams stack up—the Cavs are still in great shape to run the East.
But given James’ struggles against the Spurs and the rest of the individual matchups, ESPN’s Chris Broussard noted the Cavs would be better suited in the Finals facing the Warriors again rather than the Spurs:
Neither would b easy & both WC powers would probably be favored but if I'm Cavs I'd rather see GState than SA in the Finals.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) January 15, 2016
The Cavaliers’ Texas-triangle road trip culminates this Friday against the Houston Rockets, but they then return home to face the Warriors in a Finals rematch Monday.
The Spurs host the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday then embark on a three-game road trip that finishes at Golden State in what should be arguably one of the top games of the season to that point.