LeBron James, all 6-feet-8 and 250 pounds of him, evokes an ethos akin to a Greek God, rather than a professional basketball player. He’s a runaway freight train capable of bending any defense to his own will. He’s a modern day savant, possessing one of the sharpest basketball minds in the history of the game.
LeBron, chiseled like a superhuman, is the NBA’s closest equivalent to Superman, an alien from another planet with boundless power and limitless abilities. LeBron is not a mere mortal playing the game at the highest level; he’s a once-in-a-generation basketball force unto himself. We’ve never witnessed an athlete of LeBron’s caliber dominate the sport for this long and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. The man is 32-years-old, with more than 1,200 games on his basketball odometer, and he’s averaging 26.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds per game for the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron ruins everything, including aspirations of completing a 73-win season with a championship. Place him with four average basketball players and that team wins at least 40 games.
And the San Antonio Spurs are still his Kryptonite.
Take Monday night’s 103-74 victory for example. Kawhi Leonard outplayed LeBron, finishing with 25 points, six rebounds and six assists in 30 minutes. He didn’t play the final 10:32 minutes because the game was way out of hand. The Spurs won in a coast-to-coast rout. Sound familiar?
It should. San Antonio has beaten LeBron 23 times in 41 games (.560) over the duration of his career, including the postseason.
Back in the 2007 Finals, when LeBron was still growing into his ethereal abilities, the Spurs wiped away his talent-deficient Cavaliers squad in four games. Bruce Bowen pestered the younger James everywhere on the floor, and the Spurs flanked him with bodies and thickets of arms in each passing lane. They forced him to play the Spurs’ game. It worked.
Six years later, in another Finals matchup, LeBron needed a miracle from Ray Allen to send the series to a deciding seventh game. Miami eeked out a victory in Game 7 and it seemed like LeBron turned a corner in his rivalry against San Antonio.
Nope. The “Beautiful Game” Spurs ushered in a new era of basketball by dismantling the Heat in five games the following season. The defeat proved to be the final blow for the LeBron-led Heat; he returned to Cleveland that offseason.
San Antonio remains well-positioned to terrorize LeBron post Tim Duncan. Kawhi is one of the best foils for the NBA’s Superman — a long-armed defensive menace with a non-stop motor — and the team defensive pressure siphons away options for his teammates.
LeBron still finishes with incredible numbers against the Spurs, because he’s LeBron James. But he isn’t able to unleash the full assortment of his abilities — the facilitating that takes his team to another level — as the Spurs force him to grind out a more pedestrian level of production.
Even the NBA’s Superman has a weakness.
Kawhi Leonard: 25 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, 11-21 FG, 3-3 FT, +30.
He did it again. In two matchups against LeBron this season, he’s averaging 33.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 3-pointers while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 100 percent at the free throw line.
Quote of the night
“Basketball is fun.”
— Kawhi Leonard in his TNT postgame interview, while looking as uninterested as possible.
By the numbers
- 25-5: Spurs’ record against Eastern Conference opponents this season, the best mark in the NBA.
- 4-0: Spurs’ record against the two teams in last year’s NBA Finals (Cavaliers, Warriors). Average margin of victory: 20.8 points.
- 18-23: LeBron’s all-time record (includes playoffs) against the Spurs. It’s his worst record against any individual opponent.
- .900: winning percentage against top-five teams, according to Elias Sports. That is the second-best mark since last year’s Warriors went 10-1 against top-five teams.
- 74: lowest point total by the Cavaliers with LeBron in uniform since Feb. 26, 2009 (via Elias Sports).
Kawhi is more efficient than a Chik-Fil-A drive thru.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) March 28, 2017
I see you, old man Manu.— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) March 28, 2017
We haven't seen the Spurs run circles around an opponent like this in a long, long time. Give Spurs credit but also Cavs are a mess.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 28, 2017
If you know NBA, you know how great LeBron is. Now consider how many times the Spurs have kicked his team’s ass. That’s how great they are.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 28, 2017
Kawhi is a superteam— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 28, 2017
Taco Bell menu item of the game
*Disclaimer: This section is not sponsored by Taco Bell. I'm just a huge fan. Direct any negativity towards Taco Bell at me in the comments below. It's cool. I don't mind.
Last night’s 29-point victory earns the triple-double crunchwrap, a new-and-improved version of the classic crunchwrap supreme. San Antonio beating LeBron by double-digits at home isn’t anything new, though it did feel different without Duncan lingering in the paint to deter his drives.
And that’s a wrap. Until next time ...