Full disclosure, I have been over this whole Kawhi Leonard debacle for some time now, or so I thought. Admittedly, though, I was one who held onto his being the face of the franchise after the writing was clearly on the wall. I was called a “Stan.” Sure, I had to look it up, but when I did it hit the gut a little.
Last Friday, as the Clippers were making their way to the AT&T Center, I preemptively wrote a piece on how the San Antonio Spurs were better off without Kawhi Leonard. How the acquisition of Keldon Johnson was well worth the loss of a player who has to miss so many games for injury and load management.
My hope was that either (a) Kawhi wouldn’t play Friday, hence making my point for me, or (b) Keldon would dominate Leonard making an even stronger statement.
What, in fact, occurred for any of you who watched, was quite the opposite.
Kawhi played, and he played beautifully.
For much of the game, Leonard was guarded by Jeremy Sochan, who continues to get these sort of assignments. And for the most part, Sochan, did a wonderful job. Possession after possession, Leonard was forced to pass the ball on plays where he could have shot a three or forced his way into the paint. He seemed apprehensive to go at Sochan on more than one possession. Whether he was limiting his efforts or not may have been a factor.
But here’s the thing, Leonard scored 36 points. And he made most of those shorts look as effortless as he did when he was finding his talent here in San Antonio. Shot after shot, his accuracy and strength appear as unencumbered by anyone on the court.
Leonard still has remarkable game. Sure, health is a factor, but then again all teams are facing health as their primary determination on a title run.
In the same vein that Stephan Curry is the greatest shooter of all time, but has missed many games over the years due to his ankles (and don’t get me started on how Curry could have never lasted in the 90s playing against the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons). Still, there is no team who cannot benefit from his abilities.
When Kevin Durant’s future was uncertain after his Game 5 Achille’s injury during the 2019 NBA Finals, one commentator stated, “Durant at 85% is still going to be one of the best players in the league.”
In the same vein, Leonard is a huge asset when available.
Five years ago in san Antonio, his injury - and everything that fell into that category - made him unavailable to the San Antonio Spurs.
Friday night I was able to move past that as I realized I was enjoying the game, the competition. I didn’t need the cacophony of booing from the arena. I just enjoyed watching a very talented team do what they do and watching a developing team push their limits.
Only then did it dawn on me that I am now enamored with Kawhi Leonard’s game again.
But more importantly, I have finally moved on from being agitated by what transpired half a decade ago.
Spurs play against Kawhi and the Clippers again this week, this time in Los Angeles. Hopefully this time, they push the envelope even that much more.
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