SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker dropped in on the San Antonio Spurs Monday night.
He dropped 26 points on the Los Angeles Clippers, leading the Spurs to a 125-118 victory.
Parker returned to his spot at point guard after missing eight of the last nine games with a strained left hamstring.
Before the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Parker would work limited minutes. Instead, he played 34 and converted 11 of 18 shots.
“He says he feels great,” Popovich said. “I’m scared to death about it, but I’m just gonna trust him. He’s been around a long time. His rhythm and confidence were much better than I expected.”
Parker, 32, had missed the last five games, four of them losses by the Spurs.
“It was very painful watching,” Parker said. “I was just trying to bring energy and be aggressive. I came back a little bit early, but I wanted to help my team.”
Forward Boris Diaw scored a season-best 23 points for the Spurs. Forward Tim Duncan added 21 points and 12 rebounds. Guard Manu Ginobili had 19 points and 10 assists.
Guard Danny Green made two 3-point baskets in the fourth quarter after the Clippers, who once trailed by 17 early in the second half, pulled even with eight minutes left in the game.
San Antonio (18-11) had season-high outputs in points and assists with 37 assists on 49 baskets.
“It’s what we have to do to win,” Popovich said. “We don’t do much one-on-one stuff. It’s not the type of players we have.”
Guard Chris Paul led the Clippers (19-9) with 25 points and nine assists. Forward Blake Griffin scored 22. Guards J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford scored 21 and 18, respectively.
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals, missed his fourth straight game — and sixth out of the last eight — with what he said last Friday is a torn ligament in his right hand. Leonard said at the time that he would return soon.
A source told the San Antonio Express-News, also on Friday, that Leonard might play on Monday against the Clippers.
But Popovich said predictions of Leonard’s imminent return are not accurate.
“I don’t know about Kawhi,” Popovich said. “That one’s very problematic. He got another injection (Sunday). One of his (doctors) said he’s been doing hands for 40 years and this is the first time he’s seen this injury.”
The Spurs led 72-60 at halftime after putting on an impressive shooting display. They hit 75 percent, making 15 of 20 in each quarter. Parker converted 8 of 10, Diaw didn’t miss in six attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers. Ginobili went 6-for-8 in the half. Another guard, Marco Belinelli, made three 3-point shots.
San Antonio had to withstand an incursion by Redick, who scored 13 points in the first four minutes, including seven in a span of 24 seconds. He made a pair of 3-point shots, adding a free throw after the second trey.
The Spurs led 78-71 two minutes into the second half. But Griffin began asserting himself inside. He scored 10 points in the third quarter, and when the period ended, the Clippers trailed by just five.
But they never could overtake the Spurs.
“I just thought their energy stayed pretty consistent,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought our energy went up and down.”
NOTES: The San Antonio Spurs are known around the league for their cohesiveness on the court. But coach Gregg Popovich said that is not the case this season, when G Tony Parker, F Kawhi Leonard and C Tiago Splitter — all starters — have been lost to injuries for long stretches. And reserve G Patty Mills has yet to play this season. “We haven’t had any chemistry,” Popovich said.
… Popovich said he does not watch much tape of opponents this early in the season. “Last time I checked, we’re not undefeated,” Popovich said. “I have plenty to watch with my own team to try to correct things.” … Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he leaves film work on opponents to his assistants. “I’m like Pop,” Rivers said. “I watch a little bit, the offenses. But I’m a believer in fixing my team.” … Clippers backup center Spencer Hawes missed Monday’s game with a bruised left knee.
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