Jun 11, 2014, 1:30 AM EDT
What got into Kawhi Leonard?
After failing to crack double digits in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, Leonard led the Spurs with 29 points in their 111-92 Game 3 win over the Heat on Tuesday.
“We just want him to be who he’s been the whole year – the regular season and the playoffs,” Gregg Popovich said.
No, seriously, Pop. What got into Leonard?
“He was just himself,” the San Antonio coach said. “I don’t know what you’re looking for.”
Popovich might be incredulous because he saw this coming so long ago, he can’t understand what took so long for everyone else to catch up. Before last season, Popovich predicted Leonard would become the face of the Spurs.
Now, it might be happening before our eyes.
The 22-year-old Leonard has drawn praise from all types, but the analytically inclined have particularly latched onto his all-around production. He led San Antonio in win shares during last year’s playoffs and again during this year’s regular season.
But being the face of a franchise, even the Spurs, involves more than quiet efficiency. It requires becoming the focal point at times, something Leonard had never done to this extent – not even at San Diego State, let alone in the NBA.
His 29 points were the most he’d scored since high school.
In the last eight years, the only other players to score so much in a Finals game are LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce and Tony Parker – each multiple-time All-Stars.
Leonard has yet to receive that recognition even once, but if he keeps scoring like this, his contributions will be impossible to ignore.
He aggressively drove to the hoop and made open shots from beyond the arc, requiring just 13 shots to score his 29 points. And he still had enough energy left to defend LeBron, who spent just 64 seconds on the court without Leonard.
There are only so many two-way stars in the league, and Leonard is building his case for a seat at the table as his offense catches up to his defense.
The difference between Leonard and Paul George – a two-time All-NBA third teamer, recipient of a max contract and unquestioned best player on a team that has made consecutive conference finals – is not as great as it appears at first glance. Leonard, a year younger than George, has time to make up whatever difference exists.
Leonard used another one of those two-way stars to help find his way after struggling earlier this series.
“LeBron is very aggressive on the offensive end and defensive end,” Leonard said on ESPN. “So, just trying to match his intensity and trying keep my energy up and just staying hydrated throughout the game.”
That’s a nice subtle jab from a member of the Spurs, an organization paranoid about surrendering any competitive advantage. Maybe Leonard should know better – even if that was an unintended reference to LeBron’s cramps – because anything might motivate LeBron. But Leonard is still just 22 and learning the ropes.
Even if he doesn’t play like it.
For the second straight year, Leonard is the youngest player by four years in the Finals. Last season, he excelled, averaging a double-double. In his return to basketball’s biggest stage, Leonard took a bit longer to get going, but he made up for lost time in Game 3. Since at least 1985, only Kobe Bryant has scored so many points in a Finals game at such a young age.
Constantly, Leonard is evolving.
“He’s got to be one of our better players on the court, or we’re not good enough,” Popovich said. “That’s just the way it is. He’s got that kind of talent.”
That’s no longer a forecast of a distant future.
It’s the reality of the present.
Aug 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Davis had 18 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and three steals in 20 minutes of work.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT
The point guards made this blowout more fun to watch.
Aug 26, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT
I don’t see what could possibly go wrong here.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Milwaukee’s trade with Clippers cleared a roster spot
Aug 26, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Aug 26, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
Former Cavaliers center, 39, has been retired three years
Aug 26, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT
Glen Taylor also questions whether Cleveland should offer Love five-year contract
Aug 26, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Murry receives $250,000 guarantee
Aug 26, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
Derrick Rose struggles off the bench against Slovenia
Aug 26, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT
Oklahoma City will create trade exception, and Philadelphia will waive Thabeet
Aug 26, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
Kevin Love: ‘My decision’ swayed by LeBron James calling just after choosing Cavaliers in free agency
Aug 26, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Number of camera positions behind baseline to be halved
Aug 26, 2014, 3:27 PM EDT
Clippers limit their present and future, and the Bucks gain an easy asset
Aug 26, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT
Cleveland not offering assets as of yet, so Denver’s not biting.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
Career three-pointers made is the only category where this statement begins to make any sense.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:09 PM EDT
Spurs, Bulls, Thunder next on the list.
Aug 26, 2014, 12:27 PM EDT
Brother of the Bucks’ Giannis turned down a more lucrative offer to play overseas.
Aug 26, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Well, she looks better shooting free throws than he does anyway.
Aug 26, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Turner wants to keep its NBA rights, and with negotiations looming, the company has planned layoffs in order to have the necessary cash on hand.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Utah also adds Dee Bost, Jack Cooley and Brock Motum
- Timberwolves owner: Kevin Love might regret trade because he’ll be third banana with Cavaliers 37
- Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead Team USA in final World Cup tune-up 16
- Thunder trade Hasheem Thabeet to 76ers 33
- From late-arriving to a LeBron James favorite, Kevin Love comes full circle 14
- Clippers trade Jared Dudley and first rounder to Bucks for Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica 22
- Report: Cavaliers trying to trade for Nuggets’ Timofey Mozgov 25
- Cavaliers, with LeBron James and Kevin Love, favored by oddsmakers to win 2015 NBA title 29
- Scout says Carmelo Anthony can be good triangle fit — if he moves the ball 20