Kawhi Leonard’s Game 3 performance of the 2014 NBA Finals versus the Miami Heat was spectacular. He penetrated the lane, made jump shots and forced LeBron James into numerous turnovers. Clearly, when Leonard plays with a high-level of aggressiveness and confidence, the San Antonio Spurs transform into the league’s best team.
Leonard is vital to the Spurs’ offensive success in this series. For the Spurs, it is important that Leonard makes James respect his offensive game whenever guarded by the four-time MVP. Leonard has shown flashes of excellence with occasional dunks and pull-up jumpers, but these plays are sometimes too infrequent. By demanding respect from James and making him work on defense, the Spurs are bound to flourish because of Boris Diaw, Tony Parker and Danny Green all having an increased shot to have a greater impact offensively. Specifically, Diaw can enjoy handling the ball against Rashard Lewis, while Parker slashes in the lane against Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Green is also more likely to get free for open three pointers and driving finishes without one of the league’s best perimeter defenders pressuring him.
Obviously, Leonard is essential to the Spurs’ defense as well because he is usually matched up with James. It was made clear in game three that Leonard’s best defense is possibly his offense. As previously stated, making James work on defense will most likely decrease the likelihood of James dominating the game offensively. Even as the best player in the world, defending at a high level combined with running the show on offense is extremely difficult.
Leonard probably will not replicate the offensive explosion he had in Game 3 when he scored a career high 28 points on only 13 shots. Still, his offense can open up holes for other Spurs starters if he can demand James’ defense. In the end, Leonard’s offensive output may be the difference in the way this series turns out.