New triple-double record set, Spurs clinch play-off berth

SAN ANTONIO • Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points and the San Antonio Spurs shrugged off a listless start on Saturday to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-90 in overtime and clinch a National Basketball Association (NBA) play-off spot.

Leonard led his team to their second straight overtime victory in as many days as the Spurs (48-13) booked their 20th consecutive post-season berth.

The 25-year-old scored six of his 34 points in the extra period as San Antonio stretched their winning streak to seven games.

"We were locked in and just wanted to get this win tonight. That is where I got my energy from," he said. "We got in pretty late last night. We just had to stay in it. Everybody plays back-to-backs."

It is still early March but Spurs are the second NBA team to get into the play-offs behind Golden State Warriors, who did it last Saturday with a 112-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

The Spurs overcame 31/2 lethargic quarters of play on Saturday before staging a furious comeback in front of a crowd of 18,400 at the AT&T Centre.

"We didn't give in. We realise more and more that you don't have to panic, you just have to keep playing," said coach Gregg Popovich, who tied Phil Jackson for most consecutive play-off appearances in NBA history by a coach with 20. "We were very fortunate to win the game."

Leonard's two baskets and a pair of free throws gave the Spurs a 94-90 lead with 2min 21sec left in overtime and a Danny Green putback with 18 seconds left iced the win for San Antonio.

The game was tied 83-83 but San Antonio had the final possession and 18.9 seconds to find a game-winning shot in regulation. Leonard dribbled out all but the final three seconds from above the top of the key, drove to his left against Andrew Wiggins but did not get a shot off before time expired.

"Tonight was a character builder- type game," said Green. "We had to stick to it for 53 minutes and let our defence win the game for us."

Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to record the NBA's 79th triple-double of the 2016-17 season, breaking a league record of 78 set in 1988-89.

Most Valuable Player front-runners Russell Westbrook (30) and James Harden (15) have accounted for the majority of this season's triple-doubles, followed by LeBron James (seven) and Nikola Jokic and Draymond Green, who have each posted four. But it has been a group effort. Rubio is the 21st NBA player to record at least one triple-double this season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'New triple-double record set, Spurs clinch play-off berth'. Print Edition | Subscribe