Spurs’ Leonard Making Own Splash


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SAN ANTONIO – Sometimes young players make a splash in the playoffs.

That was Stephen Curry and Klay Thompsonthe Splash Brothers — in their postseason baptism, doing jack knives, double flips and triple twists off the high board.

It was the kind of how-did-they-do-that act that left you shaking your head when you weren’t picking your jaw up off the floor as you figured you were maybe getting a glimpse of the way basketball should be played in the 21st century.

Sometimes young players have to wade into the deep end of the pool.

That was Kawhi Leonard, whose next splash will be his first, easing into the water from his ankles up to his knees up to his hips, the old-fashioned way.

A year ago, Leonard wasn’t ready. Not when the Spurs reached the Western Conference finals against the Thunder and suddenly he was swimming with the sharks. There were critical plays that he was physically capable of making, but the rookie who did not have the benefit of a training camp in the abbreviated lockout season, wasn’t sure enough to assert himself on a veteran-laden roster.

Warriors coach Mark Jackson has called Curry and Thompson “the best shooting backcourt in the history of the game” and anyone who saw them practically set fire to the AT&T Center in the first two games of this series had little ammunition to argue otherwise.

However, since Game 1, neither Curry or Thompson has made better than 50 percent of his shots. In the past four games, Curry has shot 7-20, 5-17, 7-15 and 4-14, while Thompson has hit on 13-26, 7-20, 5-13 and 2-8. That’s a combined 50-for-133 (.375), as the Splash Brothers haven’t been able to throw it in the ocean.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich raised a few eyebrows last summer when he said that Leonard would eventually be “the face of the Spurs.”

That would seem to be a heavy lift on a roster that still includes three likely Hall of Famers in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Yet here are the Spurs holding a 3-2 series lead after a 109-91 thumping of the Warriors on Tuesday night and there was Leonard up to his neck in all of it.

At one end of the floor, Leonard is as efficient and deadly as a shark, connecting on 7 of 8 shots — 3-for-4 on deep balls — to ring up 17 points to go with his seven rebounds. He can hit impossible-looking corner 3s from behind the backboard and finish with a thunderbolt dunk over Harrison Barnes. At the other end, his defense on Thompson (and occasionally Curry) couldn’t be more smothering if he used a wet blanket.

“He made some big shots for us,” Duncan said. “When they made runs, he made some huge 3s for us. Defensively, he was great. His length is just huge for us and being able to contest from the side and from behind those, it makes them uncomfortable.”

Leonard fits in so comfortably on the floor and in the locker room that there are times when it’s easy not to notice him. He usually dresses and bolts after games before the media even arrives at his locker. On the occasions when he is hemmed in by the notebooks and cameras, he squeezes out words as if he is expected to pay for each one.

But there was a reason why Popovich was able and willing to cut veteran Stephen Jackson from the team just a week before the regular season’s end. Yes, Jackson’s play had taken a dive. He was shooting just 28 percent on 3s, which did not gibe with Capt. Jack’s opinion of himself.

The question was whether Popovich and the Spurs would miss Jackson defensively when they ran into a red hot scorer or two, the kind that needs to be jostled, rattled and knocked off his rhythm.

This time last spring, Popovich was hoping that Leonard could one day grow into that dependable game-changer. Now he is there. Leonard might not yet be “the face of the Spurs,” but he’s a got a nose for the ball. On a team where managing the playing time of the thirtysomething crowd is as much a part of the game as dribbling and shooting, it is no coincidence that Leonard topped out in minutes on the Spurs’ box score with 37 in Game 5 and is averaging more (38.2) than anyone on the roster. He is also the legs of the Spurs.

Jackson, of course, concedes nothing has thrown the Splash Brothers off their game.

On Curry: “Didn’t play well.”

On Thompson: “Didn’t play well.”

Since the first two games of the series, the Spurs have been getting up in the face and the space of the Warriors’ shooters. They have been running them off the 3-point line. They have been doing it with double-teams that come at different times and from different angles.

They have been doing it by turning more responsibility over to the taciturn Leonard, who has grown into the role and grown comfortable in the deep water of the playoffs.

Seems there is more than one way to make a splash.

44 Comments

  1. website says:

    What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious experience regarding unexpected emotions.

  2. El Ueapo says:

    Some of you are insane so I might just say something insane too…
    man, I hope the bball gods make the Memphis Heat series go to 7, and if possible bring Larry O’Brien to Memphis.
    SAS, IF they beat GS, are no match for Memphis… no match because they are old and it is a young mans game.

    • 34yr fan says:

      Please……just look at the ages of the actual players on the roster……Memphis will be a formidable opponent IF the Spurs beat out the Warriors…………..which will NOT be easy……..Spurs players, coaches and even most loyal fans would NEVER say that another playoff team is “no match” for them. Grizz beat a wounded team trying to find a new identity…..just like they did in the first round a couple of years ago……………the same result is coming !!!

  3. John Chiefyy says:

    They are probably best now, I can only say I think Ray Allen and Shane Battier are pretty good together as a pair of shooters, Jennings and Ellis are decent shooters just not as deadly

  4. Grand says:

    The Spurs aren’t “happy” with anything they’ve done yet. For the Spurs, they will only be happy when they win the championship. However as a Spurs fan (and not an actual player on the team), I do not need to maintain that type of focus to actually go out there and win. Therefore, yes, as a fan of one of the greatest franchises in the history of the league not from LA, NY, or CHI and that doesn’t get their due respect from the NBA media, I feel I should be able to gloat online. The Spurs will smash GSW in game 6 and burn the new “darlings of the NBA,” Grizzlies in the WCF. (You ever notice whoever plays against the Spurs in the playoffs is anointed the ‘new darlings..’?) Tim Duncan will get his 5th ring. Then they’ll be written off again next year…. Lol :)

  5. vela bahleke says:

    appropriate fear people,as coach pop will alaways say.remember that the oracle arena is loud and home to the splash bros.they may not be experienced enough but a wounded beast in a corner will fight back.i see gsw giving us a good run for it.if we are to prevail it should be noted that a good dose of respect and alotta hard work will win the day.go spurs !!!!

  6. eddie says:

    Nothing says you’re new to the postseason more then having to dress your fans for games. GO SPURS GO!

  7. rukidnsports says:

    In one article you excuse Curry’s performance because of injuries. In the other, you credit Spurs’ Defense. I have a different opinion. Curry scored 44 in game 1. He scored 54 in MSG. He averaged 22 for the season. The law of averages says he had a lot of games below 22 points in other games. Those don’t make good stories but they are reality. Some nights the shots go in, some not.

  8. frontrow says:

    For those who are fed up with the arroganrt Commentators at TNT/NBA and disrespect of the Spurs here is a link for you to let TNE/NBA know. http://www.nba.com/email_us/contact_us.html
    Good Luck Spurs Fans. Hope David Stern is not he one who replies. LOL!!

    • 34yr fan says:

      ….yeah they were pathetic last night…… since when do people listen to LOSERS like Webber anyway….he is a joke…an NOT a funny one at that !! People get on Sean Elliot’s case for being a “homie” when the national audience could Clearly see/hear in the tone and the words that the network would REALLY like to see GS in the west finals…..TOO BAD…they can’t shoot for them so there is nothing to be done aside from ….uh….the …..uh….officiating. I just turn OFF the sound and use TIVO to get the sound of the local radio in sync and listen to a REAL broadcast with someone who is knowledgeable of the game of basketball……

  9. Henrik Jensen says:

    Go Grizzlies !!

  10. IT is finished says:

    The time has come Golden State. Turn right around and march straight home. The spurs are the kings in this conference!!!

  11. Scott Cason says:

    Kawhi is the Spurs new and improved Bruce Bowen…. I don’t think anyone can argue that Curry/Klay are great shooters, but just like Bowen vs Kobe, you can credit a lot of their poor shooting in Game 5 to Kawhi and Danny Green’s D….. bottom line, great series, I was expecting Spurs in 5 but a 4-2 closeout won’t disappoint us down here in Santone

  12. Jopie says:

    Can’t understand why the Spurs r so happy with a win on homecourt against rookies?
    They know they never will champ this season

  13. Big T says:

    I am sure we are going to have the big EXCUSE about how CURRY was hurt through out the seris with the Spurs but
    you know what, thats though sh t…. The Spur’s are going to open a can of whoop a ss on them…..

  14. SPURS-TACULAR says:

    The SPLASH BROTHERS got beaten by the SMASH TRIPLETS.
    ************************ **********************

    Go Duncan, Go Parker, Go Manu !!!

    2013 Champs = SPURS

  15. Reggie love the spurs says:

    The Spurs defense on Curry and Thompson has been fantastic. Green and Leonard is the only reason The splash brothers are shooting .375 percent. There defense has changed their entire game. Way to play D.

  16. spursnation says:

    best backcourt? for me… manu and tony :)

  17. GSG says:

    start packing up your bags GSW, come thursday SAS will definitely beat ya!

  18. Big Al says:

    Game 5 was really dismal for Curry and Klay, with a combined total of just 13 points. It’s too early for them to be called Splash Brothers. They lack consistency; four points from Thompson is just unacceptable. There were also too many open shots for the Spurs courtesy of poor defense; it would have been a much bigger blowout if the silver guys made more of those jumpers. Even a guy like Joseph managed seven points today, for crying out loud.

    Wake up, Warriors. I know that the Grizzlies are slated to beat San Antonio, but it may well as well be you guys fighting it out with them in the WCF.

    • frontrow says:

      WCF-Warriors Cant Finish.LOL!! Big Al…Big Dreammer. Ths Spurs will get past the Girlies and on the the Finals. GO SPURS GO!!!

    • 34yr fan says:

      ….oh , I get it ….you are a grizzzz fan, right…….well, the spurs have a good memory and there is some unfinished business left over from a couple years ago when the Spurs were shorthanded and everybody was fawning all over the grizz after the first round win……. and who was that have a great series….Rudy G……..good luck grizz !! As a matter of fact, Memphis had better be 100% focused on the Thunder or they will get back in the record books in a way that they would rather not……..losing a series after being up 3-1

  19. It’s called the ORACLE arena … not the MIRACLE arena.

    We will silence that silly crowd.

    Their CURRY ain’t that hot.
    Their KLAY has dried up.

    GO SPURS GO !!!

  20. Patty says:

    KLAY THOMPSON DIDNOT SHOW UP FOR THE GAME 5!!!

    WHY WAS THOMPSON ON THE FLOOR? HE LOOKED SCARED TO DEATH OF BEING OUT ON THE FLOOR.

    KLAY THOMPSON, YOU SHOULD GIVE YOUR CHECK BACK TO THE WARRIORS. YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING IN THE LAST TWO GAMES IN THIS PLAY OFF.

    • alp says:

      give him a break.. in game 2 he put on a near historical shooting display.. it’s only his first or second year anyways

    • Ron says:

      Hey Patty, Maybe you should play? you seem to know everything.

  21. frontrow says:

    The Cinderella Warriors will soon be Punkine Pie.!!! Go Spurs Go!!!

  22. Ro says:

    @ Karmaouz – Who’s a better shooting tandem than Curry/Thompson?? I cant think of any. Seriously. Yeah, they’re not even close to the best overall backcourt in history, but i really cannot think of 2 players that shoot the ball better together. Not trying to start arguments, but can anyone name a better shooting backcourt? Glen Rice/Steve Smith were good. Nick Ando/Dennis Scott (3man) were also solid. Stockton/Hornacek were very good, but not as deadly. Interested to see who springs to mind

  23. Beavis says:

    Spurs got this.

  24. Ruben says:

    Go spurs goooo. The dou haven’t prove to be called the best backcourt of the league. Get that championship ring first and I will salute this young fella’.

  25. myvonne yu says:

    good job,Coach pop on game 5…kawhi, play ur game despite oracle’s noise…tim/tony/manu still the tripod inside/outside the game.cheers&prayers on game 6!!!

  26. karmaouz says:

    Warriors coach Mark Jackson has called Curry and Thompson “the best shooting backcourt in the history of the game”

    seriously mark ? cmon lol. so you’re the type of guy who screams MVP MVP to the better player of your team at home ?
    it’s pathetic. curry and thompson could become a great backcourt duo history; but for now, be serious please.
    how can a great player like you can disrespect the backcourt history of basketball like that

  27. kilroy says:

    spurs vs grizz….

  28. Chris says:

    Steph Curry is a killer. Even if Spurs take the next game I’m convinced he’s going to come back even stronger. Klay Thompson is also a great shooter, but I’d like to see him bring a little more to the table before I truly believe in the Warriors. Still, they’re a fun duo to watch, and with a developing Rookie such as Barnes and a great Defensive presence in Bogut the Warriors are going to be in the playoffs every year.

  29. Karlo Garcia says:

    I like Leonard.

  30. bill says:

    “three likely Hall of Famers in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker”? Even when they praise the Spurs they somehow neglect them

  31. WARRIOR fans better wear raincoats and hold up their umbrellas during game 6.

    The SPURS will be the ones making all the splashes … Ssswwwooosssshhhhh …

    GO SPURS GO !!!

  32. lucas5spurs says:

    And suddenly Fran Blinebury remembers to talk about the Spurs with a little bit more of respect. After the first two games you only talked about the Splash brothers etc, and this kids hadn´t acchieved anything yet and they were playing the Spurs, four time champions!!!you thought the Spurs weren´t going to adjust and come back big to put the things in their place?

    Once again everybody gave the Spurs as dead because of their age etc etc etc , same old story, and they come back big again to shut up everybody and to be there again, between the best four teams in the playoffs!
    #GO SPURS GO

    • The Hammer says:

      Lucas5Spurs, you know the answer to all of this, elite, elite, elite. The elite in the NBA (ESPN,TNT,ABC,NBA leadership) don’t see the money on the San Antonio Spurs like they see it on Miami and this year GSW because all the other Californian big markets are silenced. they love to see the endorsements by Gatorade, StateFarm, Nike and others…for them is not about the best team but how they can calculate profits, TV ratings and endoresements. Is always about the $$$ not the best players and teams! Go Spurs finish them off on game 6 and roll to the Western Finals because the Grizzlies are vulnerable and handicap.