Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Leonard had a terrific first game of his second season. Below is a detailed look that demonstrates why Kawhi will not be slowed by the dreaded Sophomore Slump.
The first game of the season does little to shine light upon team chemistry or any kinks that need to be worked out. It's just a first game, right?
Kawhi Leonard struggled in the pre-season. His three-point shot wasn't connecting as accurately as it did in his first season. He was forcing things at the rim, resulting in misses. He wasn't playing very well, even defensively, leaving some to wonder if he was about to have a sophomore slump. But The Big Island negated those thoughts with how he performed in the first game of the season against New Orleans. It was probably above what some expected, even if he'd had a decent pre-season.
His outstanding performance was obvious and much discussed.
In the comments of Fred's excellent recap, JRW noted:
It was personal 11-1 point run by Kawhi in the 3rd that went:
- Steal, gets fouled (clear path), hits both
- Corner Three pointer (assisted by Diaw)
- Steal, gets fouled, hits both
- Dunk (assisted by Parker)
- Steal, One Man Fast Break, dunk
Before his explosion the Spurs trailed 53-54. Afterwards, it was 64-55. It was awe inspiring.
Impressive as those two and a half minutes were, what stood out me was his composure throughout the game. Sure there were some 'oops' moments, like when he pushed off on Austin Rivers as he leaped to make a driving layup and was called for an offensive foul. So what? He'll learn. He did a great job of maintaining his mental focus throughout the game.
There was no better example of that focus than what happened with less than a minute to go in the 4th as the Spurs trailed by one. Kawhi received the ball in the right corner, and Al-Farouq Aminu chased him off the three point line. Kawhi dribbled left and looked to penetrate the lane. Most 2nd year players, when asked in pre-season to become a more assertive scorer, might have played beyond themselves. Not Kawhi. Feeling the pressure in a tightly defended situation, he knew where his teammates were located, and made a quick pass to the best option available, Tony Parker. With 49 seconds left in the game and the shot clock winding down, Tony let fly from top of the key ... Tres Bien - it turned out to be the game winning shot.
That, my fellow £ers, was an assist made by a guy who's more than your average 2nd year player. It was a veteran decision that helped his team overcome a relentless Hornets squad that had given themselves reason to believe they could pull out a win at home.
Kawhi Leonard. Boy, did you deliver.
(If you missed the play, you can see it at the 1:50 mark of this video.)