With the hype surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, it’s easy to forget that the San Antonio Spurs are 49-13. The one constant on the Spurs’ roster has been Kawhi Leonard.
His repertoire was on full display against the Houston Rockets, a matchup that pitted Western Conference heavyweights against each other. Leonard, in a 112-110 win, delivered 39 points (on just 18 shots), six rebounds and five assists. His most impressive attribute didn’t show up on the stat sheet, though. He stifled James Harden in the fourth quarter, limiting the MVP candidate to 1-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter when Leonard exclusively guarded him.
The performance came on the heels of being named the Western Conference Player of the Week. When taking into account Leonard’s defense, which should garner a Defensive Player of the Year Award, no one has played a more complete game the season. That should put Leonard in contention for the MVP award.
The Spurs’ record can largely be attributed to Leonard’s growth as a player. LaMarcus Aldridge has put forth an underwhelming season, and Tony Parker and Pau Gasol have both been in and out of the lineup with injuries. With minimal help, Leonard has averaged 26.3 PPG and 6 RPG to go along with his lockdown defense.
Against the Rockets, Leonard nailed the decisive three-pointer in the closing seconds, only to stuff Harden’s layup attempt at the other end. Much like LeBron James in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the block resounded the loudest in the win.
"The block is what makes him special," Popovich said. "Obviously, the 3, you know, Harden makes 3s, Kawhi makes 3s, Steph Curry makes 3s. Everybody does that. But I don't know who goes to the other end and does what he does. Not that many people, on a consistent basis, an entire game, game after game.”
Since Kevin Durant suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for the rest of the regular season, the Spurs have a legitimate shot at the NBA’s No. 1 seed, meaning home-court throughout the playoffs. The Spurs are just two games in the loss column behind the Warriors, and Leonard has played a massive role in that accomplishment. He should be recognized for his efforts.