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Rosen: Kawhi Leonard Not Quite at Peak Level in Spurs’ Win Over Clippers

Erich Schlegel/USA TODAY Sports

There’s absolutely no doubt that Kawhi Leonard is the most outstanding two-way player in the NBA. Yet in the San Antonio Spurs’ methodical 115-107 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, Leonard didn’t have a particularly outstanding performance at either end of the game.

Here are his game stats and the story behind the numbers.

MINUTES = 36

During the regular season, Gregg Popovich has always been concerned with limiting the playing time of his players. In 2014-15, none of the Spurs averaged more than 30 minutes per game. However, so far this season, Leonard is getting 33.3 minutes per — a number that attests to just how valuable Pop knows him to be. (LaMarcus Aldridge is next in line with 29.5 minutes per.)

No surprise, then, that Leonard’s 36 minutes of daylight were more than any of his teammates. (Aldridge had 32 and Tony Parker had 31.)

FGM-A = 6-14

Leonard made five of his nine jump shots — pulling and shooting going right and left, stepping back, but never simply catching-and-shooting. That’s because San Antonio runs a perpetual motion offense. Leonard was given a few iso opportunities, but scored on only one of them — a turnaround jumper against Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from the left baseline.

If 5-9 is a terrific percentage here, Leonard had more trouble making interior shots. He missed several flippers in the lane (although one was a hasty off-balance shot taken just before the shot clock buzzed), and the only interior basket he produced in five attempts was a baseline spin after posting up Mbah a Moute.

The lurking presence of DeAndre Jordan was certainly a factor explaining Leonard’s inefficiency in the shadow of the rim.

3PM-A = 1-3

Leonard’s 49.5 percent accuracy from out there leads the league, but one of his misses was simply a clanger. The other was rushed to avoid a shot clock violation.

FTM-A = 6-7

Only one of these was truly earned — a free throw awarded (and converted) after Leonard was bumped while hitting a 10-foot fadeaway jumper. In addition, his 88 percent accuracy from the stripe made Leonard the designated shooter when the Clippers were twice whistled for defensive three-second violations — but he only hit 1-2.

In the closing minute, the Clippers were forced to foul in their desperate attempts to give themselves the slightest chance to avoid defeat. But the Spurs made sure to get the ball to Leonard, who was 4-4 to help clinch the game.

REB = 9

One tough offensive ‘bound in the fourth quarter when the outcome was still up for grabs. In all, Leonard captured one rebound every four minutes — a good ratio for a center, and a superb performance for a small forward.

AST = 2

A drop pass into the low-posted Aldridge, plus a fast-breaking dish to Tim Duncan for a layup.

For the game, SA recorded 25 assists — just about their league-leading number of 25.2 per game.

STL = 0

BLK = 0

At the start, Leonard guarded J. J. Redick, who’s a critical part of LAC’s offense. Indeed, the Clippers run Redick off of numerous screens hoping to get him open looks from beyond the arc. And if Redick is hitting these, opponents must stretch their defenses which, in turn, leaves them vulnerable in the lane.

But Leonard didn’t have much success with Redick. He did manage to make Redick release (and miss) a three-pointer under moderate pressure. Otherwise, Leonard was beaten around two high screens and Redick was able to drop a pair of open shots that totaled five points.

Later in the game, Leonard was also given the extremely difficult task of guarding Chris Paul. The idea was that Leonard’s size and length would hinder CP3’s scoring. Moreover, Leonard also has the size and heft (6’7”, 230 pounds), plus the gumption to guard the power forwards who normally set the screens.

Even so, the ultra-quick CP3 lost Leonard on several various weavings around screens, and also on one iso sequence. These situations were virtually impossible to defend. However, Leonard did have one lapse — wandering too far to offer help on Blake Griffin and being unable to get back to Paul when Griffin’s pass found him alone along the right baseline. The trey that CP3 hit was included in the seven total points he scored when working against Leonard.

Leonard was also caught leaving Mbah a Moute by his lonesome in a similar effort to give aid to a beleaguered teammate. This accounted for another three points yielded by Leonard.

Forced into a disadvantageous switch, Leonard was helpless when Griffin caught a pass well positioned in the low post and scored an easy layup.

But Leonard did have several plus moments on defense. Tying up Griffin and forcing a jump ball in another iso situation. Hounding Wesley Johnson long enough to force a shot clock violation. Making Griffin turn his back to the basket in a 2-on-1 breakaway. And stretching out to deny numerous passes to whomever he was defending — which also included Jordan, and Josh Smith.

So, even though Leonard’s 2.0 leads SA in per-game steals, he had minimal opportunities to ball hawk while trying to navigate his way through the Clippers screens, re-screens and combo screens.

TO = 0

Pop absolutely detests the empty possessions and/or the easy scores resulting from turnovers.  The eight TOs in the game at hand were a totally acceptable number — considerably less than the 13.8 TOs the Spurs average.

It should be noted that the rapid passwork that characterizes SA’s game plan does make a certain number of TOs inevitable.

There was one play when the dive-cutting Leonard made the unpardonable sin of having his back turned to the ball. A perfectly timed pass from Danny Green bounced off Leonard’s back, but the TO was marked on the passer’s debit account.

PF = 3

A non-shooting foul against Mbah a Moute in a battle for a rebound. Hacking CP3 on a drive (1-2). And a semi-deliberate fourth-quarter foul on Jordan (0-2).

PTS = 19

With six of them freebies from the foul line.

VERDICT

Leonard missed shots he usually makes, but his offensive production in this game was somewhat superfluous since Aldridge was the go-to scorer (26 points), and TD (14) and Tony Parker (21) also provided sufficient points in the clutch.

Leonard’s defensive matchups against the Clippers are as difficult as they are against any other team (including Golden State). That said, Leonard’s total point production was 23, i.e., 19 scored plus four more on assists. Compared to the 17 points tallied by the players he was responsible for defending, the straight arithmetic gives Leonard a plus-two. Not bad versus an explosive team like the Clippers.

Also, there’s no way to figure in the arrested dribbles, as well as the ball- and shot-denials that Leonard created.

Still, he did miss too many makeable shots.

GAME GRADE = C+

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