Each and every game of the 2014 NBA Finals has featured a different turning point so far. Game 1 will forever be known as the “Cramp” game for the Miami Heat’s LeBron James. Game 2 saw James’ response to the haters, with a phenomenal third quarter shooting display. And Game 3 was the rebirth of the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard.
After almost being virtually invisible in the first two games of the series, Leonard was on a mission in the rubber match. His 29-point outburst was headed by an aggressive mind state from the tip, attacking at all times with his foot to the pedal. We did not see the hesitant Leonard, whose second thought was to score. It was an all out assault on the Heat’s defense and they never knew what hit them.
Whatever Gregg Popovich and his teammates told him before the game, must be continuously echoed for the rest of the series if the Spurs want a chance to come out with their fifth title. But it wasn’t just his offense that diffused any hopes of a Miami victory; the flawless defense against James is the other side of this gold coin.
The Spurs had gone to an uncharacteristic switching defense all night long, which gave the Heat some issues. But when Leonard found himself matched with the four-time league MVP, he gave James fits all night. He forced him into the help masterfully, forcing James to turn the ball over seven times. Leonard’s length, size, and effort on the defensive end will be the key to the Spurs’ success for remainder of the series.
When the Spurs are at their best, Leonard is creating mismatches on both sides of the ball because he is so versatile. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot it from range. He can bang down low, since the Heat are fairly small in their frontcourt and he can guard almost anyone.
If the Spurs are to finish this series the way they hope, Leonard will have to be the NBA Finals MVP.