Kawhi Leonard was the rain on the Golden State Warriors’ pre-championship parade. The Warriors were supposed to announce themselves as the dominant team in the NBA, an assemblage of talent the likes of which have never been seen, and Leonard’s Spurs made them look ordinary. That’s just the kind of thing Kawhi does to the perceived elites of the NBA.
He tears them down.
Leonard has won Defensive Player of the Year twice in a row because he defends the best players in the league like Kevin Durant and LeBron James at his position, or even at other positions (like James Harden or Russell Westbrook) and dampens their shine with his impossible blend of physicality and quick hands. And every year, he’s improved offensively without regressing at all as a defender.
He’s become one of the most reliable three-point shooters in the league, and last year he showed an increased ability to drive for his own shot at the rim or from the mid-range. Yet when defenses tightened in the playoffs, he couldn’t quite become the iso scorer that champs tend to need, and which the Spurs definitely needed with the diminished abilities of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. With the necessary and heavy caveat that it’s only been one game, Leonard’s career-high 35 points against the Warriors showed that he might have finally added that last bit to his game that could make him a true MVP candidate.