Leonard puts on a show to beat Clippers
After he’s honored as NBA’s top defensive player, he scores a career-high 32 points.
SAN ANTONIO — And you thought Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs played only defense?
If you ask the Clippers about that, they can tell you the story of Leonard being an offensive load, of being the quiet catalyst for the defending NBA champion Spurs, and, as expected, of being that dominant defender.
It was the Kawhi Leonard Show in every way Friday night in Game 3, his playoff career-high 32 points taking down the Clippers and his ability to guard multiple players lifting the Spurs to a 100-73 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven firstround series that resumes with Game 4 here Sunday.
“What didn’t he do?” marveled Clippers forward Matt Barnes, who was assigned to defend Leonard. “He guarded all of our best players and made all of his shots. So he had a great game tonight. He led their team and killed us alone.”
Before the game, Tim Duncan walked out onto the court and presented the NBA’s defensive player of the year trophy to Leonard.
The painfully shy Leonard smiled and raised the trophy above his head for a few seconds before taking his seat on the bench.
So it was up to Duncan to try to explain what that moment meant to Leonard.
“Can anybody tell? I don’t know,” Duncan said, laughing. “I gave him the trophy, walked off the court and he was behind me. He’s still maturing, and I think, obviously, he is honored by it.”
Leonard spoke loudly with his game. He missed just five of his 18 shots, just two of his five three-pointers. He had two blocks and three steals.
There were moments when he guarded J.J. Redick, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
And there were the moments in the third quarter when Leonard made the game his personal playground by scoring 13 of the Spurs’ first 15 points in the quarter that Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said “changed the game.”
“I thought he was absothree-point lutely sensational,” Rivers said.
There also was the lob from Danny Green in the second quarter that Leonard had to leap up high for before throwing down the dunk.
“I just tried to catch the ball,” Leonard said. “I was able to get my hand on it and threw it down.”
The Leonard the Clippers and a national television audience saw has been in the works.
He came to the Spurs as an unpolished offensive player. His post-up game needed work. His jump shot needed improvement. His shot was nowhere to be found. His passing out of the double team was weak. His drives to the basket were shaky.
But as Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said, Leonard “comes in early” and “stays late” and “worked on everything since he got here.” The Clippers saw it all. “It’s just having a better mind-set on the f loor,” Leonard said. “I’ve been working on the shots I’ve been shooting. Just having game experience and to be able to get those shots that I work on.”