Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.
Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“They just looked so much faster than we are,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. “They just beat us off the dribble, transition, just looking faster.”
Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.
James said he will be ready to play in the Cavs’ next game at the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.
“The way we were struggling, this is the last team you want to play,” James said after the blowout loss. “A well-oiled machine like this, they exploit everything you’re not doing well at this point in the season.
“We’re just not playing good basketball right now. We’ve got to figure it out.”
James said when it comes to showing leadership, he believes there are certain situations that call for it.
“It’s a delicate time right now for our team, a lot of people talking,” said James. “There will be a time when I will say things, but also have to go out and play, too.”
San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.
Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of the Cavs’ second rout in the past two weeks.
James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.
James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.
The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.
Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.