SAN ANTONIO -- The Spurs managed to eke out a 119-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they left the court wondering how their defense was unable to hold its ground in a game against one of the league's worst offenses.
Tim Duncan stepped up with 30 points. 12 rebounds, five blocks and a couple of game-changing defensive plays in the final minute as the Spurs (51-16) survived a strong showing by the Cavs (22-44) at the AT&T Center.
Each team was missing its biggest stars, but the game still went down to the wire. That it was that close between two teams on opposite ends of the NBA standings is a disappointing development for the Spurs, who are trying to stave off Oklahoma City for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Cavs were coming off a 96-86 loss last night at Dallas.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was ejected for the second time season and had some rough words for his team afterward.
"(Duncan) carried us all night and was great, but it shouldn't have to be that way," Popovich said. "We had one decent (defensive) quarter in the fourth. Up until that point, it was embarrassing defense and we're going to go nowhere unless we get out of this rut that we're in where we can't guard anybody.
"We've been emphasizing (defense) for the last two-and-a-half weeks and it hasn't done any good. So I need to learn another language or I don't know what. I'm very disappointed in our defensive execution for the last two or three weeks."
Don't blame Duncan for the Spurs' struggles on defense. The former league MVP came up with blocks in the final minute. One was on Tristan Thompson's dunk attempt with 57 second left and the Spurs leading 113-109. Another came on a Dion Waiters drive with 17 seconds and the Spurs leading 116-111.
The Spurs' quality of play has diminished after losing All-Star Tony Parker, dropping two of their last three games, including losses to Portland and Minnesota. They still have gone 5-2 without Parker. But the Spurs played well enough on offense against the Cavs, shooting 57 percent from the field with 45 baskets and 32 assists.
But the effectiveness of the Cavs on offense likely will be discussed in their three-day break between games. With a makeshift roster, Cleveland shot 50 percent from the field, and 7 of 15 from 3-point range.
They were led by Marreesse Speights, who had 19 points, and Wayne Ellington, who was a game-time decision with an ankle injury, with 21.
Kawhi Leonard had 24 points and career-high 13 rebounds for the Spurs.
After Popovich was ejected in the second quarter, Manu Ginobili helped spark a 22-11 run.
The Spurs have now won seven consecutive games against the Cavs, who have not beaten the Spurs since they had LeBron James on their roster.
NOTES: Popovich was ejected for the 19th time in his career. ... The Spurs recalled guard Nando De Colo from D-League Austin on Saturday, a day after he scored 17 points and had 11 assists to lead the Toros over the Los Angeles D-Fenders 110-95. De Colo gave the Spurs a spark, hitting 3 of 4 3-pointers for 11 points against the Cavs. ... The Spurs are the only active NBA franchise that has a .500 winning percentage or better against every other NBA team, courtesy of a Spurs win over the Lakers in January. ... The Spurs-Lakers series is tied 74-74. ... In their first meeting, Leonard hit a late 3-pointer to lead the Spurs over the Cavs 96-95. ... Center Anderson Varejao was out for the Cavs. ... Popovich, a wine connoisseur, was asked before the game about his drink recommendations to Cavs coach Byron Scott. "I've sullied the reputation of many a coach with wine. I've gotten most everyone. But David Robinson is still pure."