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.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Brod­er­ick Turner brod­er­ick.turner@la­times.com

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.”

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