You simply cannot be lazy with the ball around Kawhi Leonard. His hands are too big and too quick and his reach is too long. Those measurements, combined with his cat-like quickness and reflexes, make him simply unfair defensively. It doesn’t matter how good a player you are with the ball, how solid or snazzy your handles, you’re not fooling Leonard.
Steph Curry learned this lesson the hard way tonight. Curry gets lackadaisical with his dribble, a mistake he can’t make with Leonard guarding him. Leonard, seeing an opportunity, darts for the ball at the precise right time, picks Curry clean, and slams it home just seconds later. Leonard had a career-high seven steals tonight, and none more impressive (or terrifying for the Warriors) than that one.
Sometimes, steals can be a bit misleading in terms of a player’s defensive impact. They can be erroneously attributed, or they can be a result of happenstance, rather than a player’s actual effort. That was not the case tonight. If anything, those seven steals undersell Leonard’s defense. He was a terror on and off the ball, swallowing Steph Curry whole and not even bothering to spit out the bones. He disrupted passing lanes, took the Warriors out of their offensive rhythm and just wreaked overall havoc on the NBA’s best team.
Some elite defenders employ a “mirroring” method when guarding their man. Think of Tony Allen guarding Kevin Durant, mimicking Durant’s movements and positioning. Leonard does this too, but because of his inhuman proportions, he’s just as good at simply smothering his match up, engulfing them with his tremendous wingspan, covering up passing angles while simultaneously closing off driving lanes. Curry still got 24 points tonight, but the second he started cooking, Leonard switched onto him and made him part of his main course instead.
Thanks to Leonard’s defense, as well as his 26 points, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Golden State Warriors, 107-92