SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs take pride in their reputation as a blue-collar, do-whatever-it-takes team and understand that success in the regular season means little if it doesn’t produce the ultimate goal — another NBA championship.
It helps to have one of the league’s stars, Kawhi Leonard, leading the way.
Leonard turned in another workmanlike performance on Monday, pouring in 31 points as the Spurs played through a season-high 23 turnovers and defeated the Atlanta Hawks 107-99 on Monday at the AT&T Center.
“All teams make mistakes — nobody plays a perfect game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “But overall, I was pleased with our defense, given the fact that we turned it over 23 times and still held Atlanta below 100 points. I’m really pleased at that (we) continued to guard and hustle the way we did despite being sloppy with the ball.”
San Antonio (52-14) moved into a tie with the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the NBA. The Spurs hold the tiebreaker between the two teams if they are knotted at the end of the regular season. San Antonio has won nine of its past 10 games overall and nine in a row at home.
After trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half, Atlanta surged back to close the gap to 86-85 on a dunk by San Antonio native Taurean Prince with 8:08 to play.
The Spurs re-established a 94-87 cushion via 3-pointers by Bryn Forbes and Danny Green and a dunk by Dewayne Dedmon, and San Antonio was too strong in the end game.
Patty Mills added 15 points and nine assists for the Spurs, while David Lee and Green scored 14 points each and Pau Gasol contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds.
But it was Leonard, who had been going through the NBA’s concussion protocol after getting hit in the head on March 9 against Oklahoma City and was cleared to play hours before the game, who made the difference, per the norm for San Antonio.
It was the 24th time this season that Leonard scored 30-plus points.
“I felt good — it was just like any other game,” said Leonard, who said he took a blow to his jaw and the left side of his head against the Thunder that resulted in blurry vision in his left eye, a headache and some sensitivity to light. “Our trainers did a good job of getting me prepared. You don’t have to get hit hard to get a concussion.
“We are proud of how we’ve worked, but the No. 1 seed doesn’t mean anything — we have to stay focused and be at our best when it counts the most. These past few weeks have been great for us to have so many close games against teams that are playing for a spot in the playoffs or a better seed. It’s made us better.”
Dennis Schroder led the Hawks (37-30) with 22 points and 10 assists, his 10th double-double this season. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 17 points, Paul Millsap scored 16, and Kent Bazemore tallied 15 for Atlanta. The Hawks also got 13 rebounds from Dwight Howard while seeing their three-game winning streak end.
“If you get turnovers, you have to get points out of them, and we just didn’t capitalize on that tonight,” Millsap said. “Execution wasn’t great, but we had stretches where we played really well. We’ve got to do better against a good team down the stretch.”
Leonard took little time to get back in the groove, scoring nine points in the first period while keying San Antonio run midway through the quarter that turned an 8-2 Atlanta lead into a 17-11 advantage for the Spurs. San Antonio led 28-18 at the end of the first period while outshooting the Hawks 60 percent to 41.2 percent.
Schroder scored 10 points in the second quarter to help keep Atlanta within arm’s reach, but it was actually San Antonio’s 14 turnovers in the first half that hurt the Spurs the most and allowed the Hawks to be within 54-43 at intermission.
Leonard scored 19 points in the half, while Schroder led the Hawks with 14 points at halftime.
Atlanta got to within 74-71 on a jumper from Thabo Sefolosha with 1:53 to play in the third quarter. However, the Spurs scored seven of the final nine points of the period, capped by a jumper by Forbes that just beat the buzzer, and San Antonio took an 81-73 lead into the final quarter.
“To come in here and compete against these guys is great,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They can test you in a lot of ways — their spacing, their shooting, their driving. Obviously, Kawhi is a great individual player, and the Spurs play well off of him. They made a few more plays and a few more shots than we did.”
NOTES: The Spurs were without F LaMarcus Aldridge (minor heart arrhythmia), G Dejounte Murray (left groin tightness) and G Tony Parker (back stiffness). … Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer spent 19 seasons as an assistant coach with San Antonio. … Atlanta’s basketball operations manager, Malik Rose, played for San Antonio from 1997 through part of 2004-05 … Spurs F Pau Gasol was originally selected by Atlanta (third overall) in the 2001 NBA Draft before his rights were dealt on draft night … The Spurs have now won 19 straight home games against Atlanta, dating back to a 109-89 loss in 1997 at the Alamodome. … The Hawks have never won at the AT&T Center, the Spurs’ current home. … The Hawks head home to play Memphis on Thursday, while the Spurs will host Portland on Wednesday.