No one speaks about Kawhi Leonard and mentions a regular season MVP, but when he’s in his zone on offense, it’s hard to argue that he’s not one of the best player in the NBA, leading the San Antonio Spurs to a 100-73 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, taking a 2-1 lead in the series following game 3.
Leonard, the Finals MVP last season, scored 32 points in only 29 minutes, adding fantastic, aggressive, relentless offense to his excellent defense. He was the only Spurs player to finish with over 15 points, and only two others had scored in double figures: Boris Diaw with 15 and Danny Green with 11. When the Spurs are at their best, the wins are easy, and the points are spread out wonderfully, not to mention the old guys get to rest.
Doc Rivers saw the ugly side of his team. The one that shows up now and again throughout the season, demonstrating why the Clippers might be as talented as anyone else in the league, but continue to be a step or two behind the more serious title contenders season after season. It has something to do with maturity, discipline and mental fortitude. Maybe it has something to do with their coach, who enjoyed some sort of criticism shield for a championship three hall of fame players helped him win seven years ago.
We’ve had this happen a couple of times this year; we lose our spirit because we can’t make shots. I thought that’s what happened as the game went on. Every time we missed a shot, we played less and less defense.
Spurs players were mostly busy saying nice things about Leonard, who also won the Defensive player of the year award this week. The 23-year old out of San Diego State was always useful since his rookie season, but his transformation or simply natural evolution as a basketball player has been incredible to see over the last two years, possibly rising to a level that’s not just an All-Star, but maybe a Superstar.
Right now isn’t the time to debate whether it’s the Spurs system bringing out the best in Leonard or is he player that would be more popular and not so surprising to see score 30 points or more had he be playing on a team not so well known for being about unselfishness. The Spurs are more than willing to follow his lead, as he seems to zap the will out of opponents by his two way excellence.
The Clippers can win in San Antonio, they have all the tools to make things difficult for the Spurs, even when Leonard is having a good day. But things can’t fall apart just because shots aren’t falling, hitting only 34.1% from the field in game 3. They were a few free throws away from being 2-0 up as they made their way from California to Texas. Nothing has changed except their attitude and maybe their confidence. If Rivers is such a good coach, he should find the solution to that deterioration, instead of slowly throwing his players under the bus, again.