On a sleepy Thursday night in late October, with Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee providing offensive support while three members of the starting lineup couldn't find the ocean if they were jumping in it, Kawhi Leonard put Ben McLemore in his personal torture chamber.
It was late in the third quarter when Leonard turned the game on its head. But, first, here's some background.
Sacramento was hosting its first game in its new season, but they were on a back-to-back. The Spurs are the Spurs, but they were coming off a convincing butt-kicking against the best team in the league. There was potential for a letdown.
The first batch of H-E-B commercials were released throughout the game. Other than that, though, there was little of consequence happening. The usual suspects - Leonard and DeMarcus Cousins - were flat-out dominating. Dedmon and Lee had developed early chemistry, manning a bench unit that was keeping the Spurs in the game while 60 percent of the starters languished in obscurity.
Parker didn't score until the fourth quarter. Anderson finished with two points in 27 minutes, with eight rebounds and three assists for good measure. The athletically superior (and just flat-out superior) Cousins bruised and bullied the older Pau Gasol. The 36-year-old Spaniard recorded seven points and six rebounds in another tepid performance. Aldridge took awhile to get going, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds.
So back to that Leonard guy. Because he was the story of Thursday night's 102-94 victory over Sacramento.
The climax of his story occurred when he first picked McLemore's pocket and took it to the house for a score. McLemore, the seventh pick in the 2011 NBA Draft if you recall, compounded the error with a dumb, avoidable foul. He tried to halt Leonard's progress, but he didn't do enough to prevent the two-time Defensive Player of the Year turned Kobe Bryant scoring maestro from attempting a shot.
Then, on the very next possession, Leonard picked on poor McLemore again. He drew another foul, sank both free throws and Sacramento was never the same again.
Leonard finished the job late in the fourth quarter. To Sacramento's credit, the Kings led for most of the game. Even after Leonard eviscerated McLemore (twice!), the Kings were within striking distance, waiting for another lull that Leonard simply would not allow.
Leonard, who began the night scoring the team's first nine points, didn't let Sacramento pull a fast one and steal a victory from the heavily favored Spurs.
So he went to work in what has been a money spot for him this year - the mid-range. Parker assisted on a mid-range jumper with two minutes and some change. Leonard knocked down another long 2-pointer on the next possession. With the shot clock running out, and little time to pass to a teammate, he unfurled a closely contested shot on the right baseline with 30 seconds remaining in the game. Perhaps a few years ago, he would have missed the shot badly, the ball caroming off the front or side iron into the opposition's hands. Frankly, a few seasons ago, this situation wouldn't have even materialized because he would have passed to a teammate long before the chance to shoot arised. This year, with Leonard assuming even more offensive responsibility, is different.
The 2016-17 version of Kawhi Leonard didn't waver. He just got buckets.
Leonard scored the last points in the game, which was fitting considering he was one of the few Spurs that played well start to finish.
Thursday night, with plenty of reasons to lose and little reason to win, Kawhi turned on the extra gear to secure a Spurs road victory. He was a closer, a deadly scorer, a steady presence and a destructive defender. He was everything, especially when a lackadaisical Spurs team needed him most.
Welcome to the year of Kawhi Leonard, my friends.
Kawhi Leonard: 30 points on 11-21 shooting, 5 assists, 5 steals, 3 rebounds, 7-7 from the foul line.
The scary part: He made this 30-5-5-3 performance look rather easy. It didn't seem like he was gunning for his second consecutive 30-point game - the first time he's done that in his career, by the way - and, oh, there he was with 30 points at the final buzzer. The only negative in Leonard's night was five personal fouls.
Quote(s) of the night
"That dudes good man. He's (bleeping) good.... He's good. He's really good."
- DeMarcus Cousins on Kawhi Leonard (via John Dickinson)
"It's a snowball."
- Kawhi Leonard in the H-E-B commercial titled "Origami"
"Kawhi was ridiculous as usual. The things he does just amaze me."
- Gregg Popovich on his star player (via Jeff McDonald)
By the numbers
- 32.5: Kawhi's scoring averages through two games this year -- 32.5 points, 5.0 steals, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 50 percent shooting. You know, system player numbers.
- 48: The Spurs have had a losing regular season record for a whopping 48 days in the past 19 years (via Jordan Howenstine)
- 62.5: Kawhi's field goal percentage on mid-range shots this season, according to NBA.com. He's 10 of 16 from that range.
- 65: Kawhi's point total through two games. It's tied for second-most through two games in franchise history. David Robinson scored 68 points in the first two games to begin the 1990-91 season.
- 65-10: Kawhi is the first player with 65 points and 10 steals in the first two games of a season since World B. Free in 1979 (via Elias Sports).
"IT'S A SNOWBALL"— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 28, 2016
Things Kawhi is really good at:— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) October 28, 2016
4. Playing basketball
5. Eating chicken wings
6. Making snowballs
@spurs Yo can he stop pls— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) October 28, 2016
81-71. Spurs. How.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) October 28, 2016
(The answer is Kawhi. It's always Kawhi)
It's really unfair that Kawhi Leonard is allowed to be this good.— Peter Nygaard (@RetepAdam) October 28, 2016
Taco Bell menu item of the game
*Disclaimer: This section is not sponsored by Taco Bell. I'm just a huge fan. It's in my Twitter bio (@quixem), after all. Direct any "Taco Bell is terrible how could you like this toxic sludge" in the comments below. It's cool. I don't mind.
Last night was a 7-layer burrito. Because no one wants to eat a 7-layer burrito. (It usually turns out well though.)
And that's a wrap. Until next time...