Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and left to a standing ovation Monday as the San Antonio Spurs humbled the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 less than three weeks before the start of the playoffs.
The late-season glamour match-up in San Antonio fizzled as the Spurs took control in the first quarter thanks not only to stars like Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge but also to stellar play from their reserves.
Adding to the misery for Cleveland, Cavs superstar LeBron James took an elbow just above the shoulder blades from Spurs David Lee in the waning seconds of the third quarter that sent him slumping to the court.
He stayed there for several scary minutes before making his way to the bench and with the Cavs trailing 81-58 going into the fourth quarter didn't return to the court.
James scored 17 points on seven-of-17 shooting before departing, but the Cavs endured their ninth defeat in 15 games in March.
The Cavaliers connected on just 37.3 percent of their shots from the floor and for the first time since November 2015 fell out of first place in the Eastern Conference as their record fell to 47-26. The Boston Celtics now lead the East at 48-26.
Cleveland's 74 points were a season low.
The Spurs, meanwhile, notched their fifth straight win and at 57-16 pulled within two games of the Golden State Warriors in the race for the best record in the league and the Western Conference lead.
Pau Gasol scored 14 points and Manu Ginobili chipped in 12 for the Spurs, who host the Warriors on Wednesday.
While the San Antonio crowed was geared up for a playoff-caliber contest, the Spurs soon took all suspense out of the proceedings, using a 17-8 run over the final half of the first quarter to take a 28-18 lead.
The Spurs' bench were big contributors, out-scoring Cleveland's bench 15-0 in the first quarter and 28-0 in the first half.
The Spurs led 42-32 at the 6:20 mark of the second quarter before Cavs star Kyrie Irving was stripped of the ball on two straight possessions that led to layups on the other end for Aldridge and Lee.
Irving scored just eight points and saw his run of 21 straight games with at least 20 points end.