BOSTON (AP) — The trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to San Antonio was already a success for the Spurs, even before throw-in Davis Bertans began contributing.
The Latvian rookie set a career high in scoring for the second straight game, pitching in 15 of the Spurs’ 56 bench points on Friday to help San Antonio beat the Boston Celtics 109-103 for their eighth straight victory.
“Our first group was still in bed,” Spurs coach Greg Popovich said after watching his team fall behind 14 points in the first quarter in the matinee start. “That’s why I took them off the court. It was hard to watch.”
Leonard had 25 points and 10 rebounds for San Antonio, but that’s not surprising from an All-Star who was second in NBA MVP voting last season. Less expected was the contribution from Bertans, who was selected 27 picks later in the 2011 draft and then dealt to San Antonio with Leonard in the trade that sent George Hill to Indiana.
“Bertans was amazing,” Popovich said. “Kawhi is Kawhi, but we start to take him for granted. I think overall the bench was the key.”
Patty Mills scored 19 off the bench, sinking a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left after the Celtics made it a one-possession game. David Lee had 15 points and 12 rebounds as the Spurs reserves outscored their starters 56-53.
The Spurs fell behind by 14 points in the first quarter but scored 12 in a row — seven from Leonard — in the second to get back in the game and improve to 9-0 on the road this season.
“You know what you’re getting from Kawhi, and he played great,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But I thought those guys really changed the complexion of the game.”
Isaiah Thomas finished with 24 points with eight assists and Avery Bradley had 19 points and eight rebounds for the Celtics. Al Horford had 12 points and 10 rebounds in his second home game since signing a four-year, $113-million contract with Boston this summer.
Jae Crowder scored 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter. The Celtics had won three in a row, but they lost to San Antonio for the 10th straight time.
“Home, road, 20 years, whatever it’s been: they finish,” Stevens said.
A 6-foot-10 forward, Bertans spent much of the last five years playing in Europe and recovering from ACL injuries. He signed with San Antonio this summer and has played in 13 of 16 games so far this season.
Leonard, who was the No. 15 overall pick by the Pacers in the 2011 draft, said he had no memory of Bertans’ name from that night.
“I was just thinking of myself,” he said.
Boston used an 18-2 run to turn a two-point deficit into a 24-10 lead. But the Spurs were just as impressive in the second, when they scored 12 straight points to make it a one-point game.
“We gave up the whole first quarter, and after that we knuckled down and played pretty good,” Popovich said. “And the starters came back in and played better after that too.”
The Celtics led 74-69 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter before Bertans hit a 3-pointer and Mills made a 34-foot 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give the Spurs the lead. Bertans also hit a 3 to start the fourth.
Spurs: Improved to 5-0 vs. Eastern Conference teams. … Bertans, who set his career-high with 11 against Charlotte on Wednesday, broke it in the first three quarters against Boston. … Tyler Zeller and Danny Green were teammates on the North Carolina team that won the 2009 NCAA title.
Celtics: Horford, the Celtics’ biggest free-agent acquisition of the summer, played just his second home game this season — his first since the opener. He missed nine games with a concussion and returned for the last three games — all on the road. … Crowder scored his 2,500th career point.
Spurs: Visit the Wizards on Saturday to end a three-game road trip.
Celtics: Visit the Heat on Monday night. Boston swept the 2015-16 series 3-0 against Miami. The Heat are 4-10 and could be headed for a second year without a playoff appearance in three seasons since LeBron James returned to Cleveland.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.