Basketball / NBA

Kawhi Leonard carries Clippers past former coach Gregg Popovich, Spurs

AP, Reuters

Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard exchanged some laughs and pleasantries after Leonard’s new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, defeated his former coach and the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.

If Leonard has any more nights like that against his former club, the normally irascible Popovich won’t be smiling again.

Leonard scored 38 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Clippers’ 103-97 victory, which handed the Spurs their first loss. It is Leonard’s first points-rebounds, double-double this season. It is also his first double-double in three meetings against San Antonio, where he played seven seasons (2011-18) before being traded to Toronto in July of 2018.

The 38 points ties for the fifth-most Leonard has scored in a regular-season game in his eight-year career. He took a career high 32 shots.

“It was something I look forward to,” Leonard said about facing the Spurs. “Just to be able to play against a great coach and my old teammates is always fun.”

Leonard is 2-1 against his former team. While his departure from San Antonio wasn’t amicable, Leonard said his relationship with Popovich is good, for the most part.

Popovich didn’t have much to say about Leonard postgame other than: “I thought he was great.” When someone tried to get Popovich to expound, he replied: “Doc’s coaching him, I’m not. I just said he had a great game, there’s nothing else to say.”

Another thing going well is Leonard’s start with Los Angeles, the team he signed with as a free agent during the offseason. He has scored 30 or more in three of his first five games and is the first Clipper since Blake Griffin in 2015 to have at least 38 points and 12 rebounds in a game.

Leonard — who sat out Wednesday’s game at Utah due to load management — took control of the game in the second half, when he had 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers. Los Angeles went on 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 a dunk after a steal of DeMar DeRozan at midcourt.

San Antonio got within five (80-75) at the end of the third quarter before the Clippers scored 11 of the first 13 points in the fourth quarter with nine coming from Leonard. The Spurs scored six straight points to get within 97-93 with 2:34 left but could not get closer.

Heat 106, Hawks 97

In Atlanta, rookie Kendrick Nunn produced his third 20-point effort of the season, going for a career-high 28 points to lead Miami past the hosts.

Pelicans 122, Nuggets 107

In New Orleans, Jahlil Okafor scored 26 points as the Pelicans got their first victory of the season, defeating Denver.

Curry out with broken hand

In a matter of months, the once-unbeatable Warriors have gone from a starting lineup featuring five All-Stars to a cast of youngsters almost nobody knows.

At least to start the season they had staples Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney to lean on for leadership.

Now, Curry and Looney are hurt and Green is dealing with a balky back. And the Warriors have looked anything but dominant during a 1-3 start.

Curry joined Splash Brother Klay Thompson as the latest sidelined star. The two-time MVP broke his left hand in a loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night and it remained unclear a day later how long he might be sidelined.

Curry underwent a CT scan Thursday but the team said it would have specialists evaluate the results before providing an update on his status.

Many already consider it a lost season, with playoff hopes in the powerful Western Conference grim at best. Golden State might instead be lining itself up for a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft.

Still, Curry posted a smiling photo of himself, with the hand heavily wrapped, Thursday on his Instagram account with the message: “Appreciate all the love/texts/support all that . . . Be back soon!”

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