It's fitting that Kawhi Leonard wears number 2, because his arrival four and a half years ago breathed a second life into the Spurs as a title contender. If you'll recall, Leonard was traded from Indiana to San Antonio on Draft Night 2011 for George Hill, a man who wears number 3. Hindsight is 20/20, and you could get takes on both sides which found the trade to be either even-steven or disadvantage: Indy. If memory - and Google - serves, there were few voices who spoke out against the Spurs for making the deal. Kawhi ("It's not pronounced Kaw-hee" - me, to my 2011 self) was never supposed to become this, thing, except possibly in the flightiest dreams of Spurs fans' imaginations. George Hill, on the other hand, was 25 at the time and already just about all he would become as a basketball player. All what was really left was the fugue state where he took NSFW selfies and dyed his hair yellow. In appearance, Kawhi was a souped-up teenager who could dominate JV but would need time to put his physical tools to use at the highest level.
That time has been consummated. Your 2nd Savior and reigning Defensive Player of the Year is leading the NBA in 3 point percentage and his team in scoring while still crushing it on the less glamorous end of the floor. Friday night against the Clippers, he guarded Chris Paul down the stretch even as he iced the game from the free throw line midst a three-letter incantation normally reserved for the MJs and the Kobes.
Well, why not? He's looked like them lately.
Five years later, George Hill has yellow hair ... and Kawhi has a title, Finals MVP and a DPOY award. Seems like the Spurs won the trade.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) December 22, 2015
So, Spurs and Pacers. The last time these two ABA alums met up, current Sacramento King and on-court chain smoker Marco Belinelli hit a baseline jump shot with just over 2 seconds left to get Gregg Popovich his 1,000th victory as a head coach.
It was a close shave, as are most games against Indiana. What's more, matchups between the teams tend to resemble a row more than a race. Pair "Spurs" and "Pacers" and you expect unfettered speed; in reality, the games are more like rush hour on a Texas interstate, with stop and go urban warfare interspersed with glorious-yet-brief periods of breathing room.
That Frank Vogel's crew were able to find that breathing room in last night's first half was possibly due to a lack of effort on the Spurs' part more than any great wellspring of vroom on Indy's part. Hill remains a serviceable point guard as he approaches the age when Dennis Rodman also sported amarillo locks, Paul George is a bona fide member of scary young two-way triumvirate with Kawhi and Jimmy Butler, and newcomer Monta Ellis can also do some things. But the biggest gain for Indy may have been the subtraction of their dinosaur post players, Roy Hibbert and David West. West is a Spur now, while Hibbert continues the tradition of smartly-judged acquisitions for the Jimmy Buss Lakers (*snicker*). In their absence, Indy's offense seems to have found new life.
And for awhile, particularly in the opening minutes of the second half, it looked like the Spurs perfect home record was under assault.
But then: Kawhi
Kawhi just...happened. When MJ used to happen, his teammates would happen too. They responded, which made his talents exponentially more effective. This season, when Kawhi has happened, Timmy has happened too, and LaMarcus, and Manu, and Patty Mills, and Danny, and even...
And when Kawhi tired of making George and the Pacers miserable, in came the man George Hill was once meant to replace.
He's kinda back... https://t.co/lS5i5q9yAR— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) December 22, 2015
When you were a kid, did you ever ask your mom or dad why Christmas Day couldn't be every day? It was a fair question, because why shouldn't each day be as filled with warmth and joy and anticipation as Christmas? Well, are you thinking what I'm thinking? If you're a Spurs fan right now, you've got your wish.
Tweets n' Things
"Whoops. Pick up the laundry." Bill Land is the GOAT. https://t.co/ky5pQIAWpJ— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) December 22, 2015
When Simmons nailed the corner 3, it put the Spurs up by 10. San Antonio has built a 10-point lead in 24 of 29 games this season.— Paul Garcia PS (@PaulGarciaPS) December 22, 2015
Paul George is the latest visitor to Kawhi Leonard Island. Hasn't been the best vacation, since he has just 7 points on 1-13 shooting.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) December 22, 2015
Gotta love Pop https://t.co/GQn3j9P6tN— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 22, 2015
My god, Kawhi. https://t.co/J7G7jsEW8V— whitney (@its_whitney) December 22, 2015
I've watched pretty much every Spurs game so far this season and yet I'm still surprised by how good Kawhi Leonard is offensively.— Andrew McNeill (@andrewamcneill) December 22, 2015
Bowen was never about steals but still impressive. https://t.co/8xgwFLmNV8— Aaron Preine PS (@PreinePS) December 22, 2015
Major : Defense https://t.co/yUuCmcax1T— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 22, 2015
Paul George must be hungry because Kahwi Leonard ate his lunch. UP TOP! Anybody? Nobody? Fine I’ll do it myself. pic.twitter.com/tVOx2dx89F— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) December 22, 2015
Dennis Schroder got his tooth knocked out & then put it in his sock https://t.co/SXFkT56Ywq— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 22, 2015
TIM DUNCAN! pic.twitter.com/ci9t0cEgoq— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 22, 2015
Happy Holidays, Pounders.