LOS ANGELES (AFP) — San Antonio held on to beat NBA Eastern Conference contenders Miami, 107-102, on Sunday with Patrick Mills making key contributions as the Spurs, at his behest, hosted the league’s first “Indigenous Night.”
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 21 points and DeMar DeRozan added 20 with nine rebounds and nine assists.
Mills, an Australian of Aboriginal descent, scored 18 points and pulled down five rebounds for the Spurs, who knocked off the No. 2 team in the East.
He scored 14 points in the first half, helping San Antonio rally after the Heat took an early 10-point lead behind hot shooting from Duncan Robinson.
During the second quarter Mills hit the 1,000th three-pointer of his NBA career, finishing the night with 1,002.
Mills addressed the crowd before the game about the significance of the occasion to him. He had asked the Spurs to honor his ancestry as well as that of Native Americans and other indigenous people around the world.
The club did so on the eve of the Martin Luther King Day holiday.
“It’s an important night and it’s really important to Patrick, for the indigenous people here in Texas, it’s important for all of us, but its sort of double with him because of his history and his background,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has long been an outspoken advocate for racial justice in the United States.
“But he didn’t play like he did because of that,” Popovich added. “He does that every night. His energy had been there his whole career. It’s who he is.”
DeRozan said the Spurs, who are ninth in the Western Conference at 18-23, had been stung by a 121-120 loss to Atlanta on Friday in which they surrendered a 14-point lead.
In a fourth quarter that saw four lead changes, Aldridge made the most of a steal by teammate Derrick White, converting a three-point play that put the Spurs up 102-98 with 3:20 remaining.
From there the Spurs held on to improve to 18-23. They are in ninth place in the Western Conference, one spot out of playoff position.
Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 21 points and 16 rebounds. But Miami, who fell to 29-13, now trail the mighty Milwaukee Bucks by eight games, with the reigning champion Toronto Raptors just a game further back in the East.