Patty Mills was an observer for most of San Antonio's first five games of the season. When he finally got an opportunity for an extended playing time, he responded in a big way.
Tim Duncan had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks to lead the Spurs to a 97-86 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. But Mills was hailed as the difference maker after he was 8 for 9 from the field while scoring 18 points.
"He was real big; he helped us get this win," coach Gregg Popovich said of Mills. "We needed points from other players and Patty got it done for us."
San Antonio played without Stephen Jackson, who was out with the flu. Matt Bonner also rested, and Tony Parker and Duncan weren't feeling well either.
Enter Mills, who had played a little more than 21 minutes and scored just six points on the season coming into the game. But the seldom-used point guard filled in frequently for Parker and helped the Spurs defeat the Kings for the ninth straight time in Sacramento.
"This is professional basketball, you have to be ready whether you are told or not," Mills said. "I knew I had to be ready because we had some guys who weren't feeling very well."
Mills had a big impact in the third quarter when the Kings outscored the Spurs 29-22 to pull within one heading into the fourth. Mills subbed in for Parker and hit a 3-pointer and had five points.
Mills kept up the momentum in the final period, making three shots, one of them a 3, and scoring seven points in helping the Spurs pull away for the victory.
"Tonight I was in the pace of the game and trying to bring energy," Mills said.
Kawhi Leonard had 11 points for the Spurs, who haven't lost in Sacramento in five years. Parker never got going and finished with five points, six assists and four turnovers in 24 minutes. Still trying to recover from a sore back, Manu Ginobili had seven points in 25 minutes.
The Kings shot 35 percent, including a 3-for-16 performance from long range.
"As you know with this team - San Antonio - they turn miscues into something that's going to be a positive for them," Sacramento coach Keith Smart said.
Marcus Thornton and Jason Thompson scored 17 apiece for the Kings, who had won two straight. DeMarcus Cousins, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, was in foul trouble much of the game and finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes. He went 4 for 14 from the field.
Leonard made two free throws and Duncan followed with an uncontested dunk to give San Antonio an 86-77 lead with 3:21 remaining. Mills' 3-pointer extended the advantage to 89-79.
Cousins went to the bench with four fouls early in the third quarter and the Kings trailing 59-47. But Sacramento rallied without its leading scorer, using a 15-4 run to briefly grab the lead.
Cousins finally got going in the final period, challenging Duncan inside and scoring five straight Kings points during one stretch to keep Sacramento close.
"That was a competitive, big man battle," Cousins said. "I have the upmost respect for Tim Duncan. He's the greatest forward that the NBA has."
Duncan, who had eight points in the fourth, was 9 for 12 from the field for the game and finished with four assists and three steals.
Duncan was clearly looking for shots early. He made the Spurs' first basket on a jumper and had 12 points and seven rebounds at the break.
"I'll be there for whatever (plays) are called for me on any given night," Duncan said. "Nights where I'm playing well he (Popovich) will run plays through me."
Tyreke Evans scored eight points and both Thompson and Thornton had seven in the third quarter, helping the Kings close to 69-68 heading into the fourth. The Spurs shot 7 of 20 in the third after shooting nearly 55 percent in the first half.
After an impressive opening quarter, the Kings shot 25 percent in the second period and were outscored 23-12. Thompson had 10 first-half points.