2014 NBA Playoffs: Neutralizing Kawhi Leonard Will Be Huge Factor For Thunder
The San Antonio Spurs couldn’t be contained offensively on Monday night as they faced off with the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of the Western Conference Finals. As the Spurs shot 57.5 percent from the floor and 9-17 from long-range en route to their 122-105 victory, San Antonio seems poised to return to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
Tim Duncan got the ball rolling for the San Antonio offense with 21 points in the first half, clearly taking advantage of the Thunder not having Serge Ibaka available. Danny Green also came up big with 6-7 shooting from the field and 4-5 shooting from three on the night. However, the real x-factor for the Spurs’ offense in game one was Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard played 39 minutes on Monday night, the most of any Spur. He also finished with 16 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals and one block while shooting 7-16 from the floor. However, it felt as if Leonard was providing crushing blow after crushing blow and his offense was really the unforeseen factor that propelled the Spurs to victory.
If Oklahoma City is going to have success in this series and if Kevin Durant and company are going to fulfill what has felt like destiny all season, they are going to have to focus their defensive effort on limiting Leonard. Without Ibaka, it’s going to be hard the Thunder to stop Duncan while Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker can essentially play to a wash in their matchup. Subsequently, Durant has to absolutely dominate the matchup on the wing and against Leonard.
Whether it involves scheming more to stop Leonard as a team or just having Durant flex his defensive muscles on Leonard, the Thunder can’t afford to have the rising star make that kind of impact offensively. If OKC can’t find a way to keep Leonard in-check given the disadvantages they’re already coming into this series with, they might fall short of the Finals once again.