Leonard Takes Turn In Tank vs. LeBron

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MIAMI – Kawhi Leonard‘s close-up moments — a championship series of them actually, at least four and as many as seven — are ready for him, whether he’s ready for them or not.

Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs’ second-year forward, won’t turn 22 for another three weeks. But he’ll grow up as an NBA player before a global audience’s eyes during the 2013 Finals. Leonard is the Spurs defender charged with being the first point of resistance against the best basketball player in the world, Miami Heat star and four-time MVP LeBron James.

Young Leonard, meet locomotive.

“I think he’ll be fine,” said San Antonio’s Danny Green after their team’s morning shootaround session Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“He’s a fearless player,” Green said. “He doesn’t get rattled or scared easily. And he just plays basketball. It’s just a basketball game.”

And James is “just” a basketball player, right? Nobody on either side is saying that.

They know that the threat James poses to 29 NBA defenses doesn’t fall on one man. It requires group effort, rotations, double-teams, different looks and, invariably, second and third matchup options when a primary defender finds himself in foul trouble.

But someone gets the first turn in the tank and that guy, night after night through these Finals, figures to be Leonard.

“He’s just reliable,” Manu Ginobili said of his younger teammate. “Very athletic and long. He’s not 6-10 of course, but his wingspan is huge. And great hands, quick hands. So basically he’s our only player who can really match up in some solo way with him. There are not many in the league who can match up with him.”

There isn’t much track record to go on. Leonard was hurt and did not play in the regular-season meeting in Miami, and neither James nor Dywane Wade played when the Heat visited San Antonio in March. In Leonard’s rookie season, the teams met just once in the post-lockout schedule.

James, averaging 26.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 6.4 apg while shooting 51.4 percent in the postseason, just wrapped up a series against another earnest, developing defender in Indiana’s Paul George. The Spurs likely will give Leonard more help than the Pacers gave George, though that team did adjust with extra defenders as the series ground on.

Leonard didn’t shy away from the assignment when talking with reporters Wednesday.

“I would rather guard the best guy on the floor,” he said. “I want to get better myself. Guarding him is only going to make me a better player. I accept the challenge to go out there and play.”

Said Ginobili of Leonard: “He doesn’t say much. He’s not playing around or making jokes. He’s just a serious kid and hard worker. He loves the game, but he’s quiet, an introvert. But he does a great job.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t expect the heightened attention on The Finals to affect Leonard. “I think he’ll be fine,” Popovich said. “The whole playoffs are a big stage. And he’s kind of like Tim [Duncan] — he doesn’t seem to get rattled, he doesn’t talk much. He just goes and plays the game.”

Leonard, 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, will try to make James (assuming he guards the Spurs forward) work defensively to drain a little energy from him, at least. In 14 playoff games, Leonard is averaging 13.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg and shooting 56.5 percent.

He undoubtedly will get some tips and insights from older, more experience Spurs. But that can only help so much.

“Talk is cheap in these situations,” Popovich said. “I think guys just have to experience it and play. Everybody’s different — some guys will handle it well and some other guys might not. You don’t know who those people are. You don’t know what will make them feel comfortable or not.

“But just in preparation, we try to use a little bit of humor so they realize, it is still basketball. The same things win and lose, and when it’s over, life will go on.”

35 Comments

  1. Catalin says:

    This 22 year old kid had the moust umbiliveble season and will decide in my opinion this year final, if he can be that first line of defance in front of Lebron and limit is contribution Spurs will win, if not Spurs will lose! it as simple is that …

  2. @ 34yrfan-lmao-i hear u-that’s so true-great point of fact! :)

  3. I knew Kawhi would be fine & do a great job on lbj-great 1st game! Keep it up Spurs. Spurs are a better team!
    Go Spurs-Spurs all the way!!!

    • 34yr fan says:

      yeah…that ought to shut up up the bandwagoners…………..but probably not….I heard on the radio this morning that the heaters were a ‘little fatigued’…… well I guess they are tired after all….lol…..so if miami loses it is just because of ‘them’ in one way or another….nothing to do with the spurs of course….it is as if miami is ‘expected’ to win and if they don’t ‘they’ did something wrong or were like the talking head said, they were “fatigued”….. same ol same ol

  4. Patty says:

    SPURS NEEDS LEONARD TO SHOOT WELL.

  5. Mamba talks says:

    Heat will win and let me tell you why, the Miami Heat has big three Lebron, Wade, Allen and yes I don’t consider Bosh as a big, Spurs has big two Duncan and Coach Pop and yes I don’t consider Parker or Manu as bigs. Big 3 > Big 2

    • 34yr fan says:

      who cares What you “consider” ……… so you like the ringchaser allen , huh……..he won’t get a ring though because one cheap ring per career is the limit….lol…. Tony Parker doesn’t care what folks think….he just does his job with precision…

  6. BioMan says:

    Maybe if Leonard will play defense like Bruce Bowen.. Spurs in 7 games!

    • hector says:

      go spurs if u are a heat fan i hope hell for u i hope lebron breaks his legs and goes blind if possible wade will suffer from a dam broken neck and hands

  7. Jamal says:

    The real finals was played in the Eastern Conference a few days ago. The Pacers and The Bulls will be the hardest match for The Heat going forward. The Spurs would not have been in this game if Westbrook would have never gotten hurt.

    • 34yr fan says:

      the real finals….lol…. that ugly series??? lol No you are wrong….the east is one notch down from the west & eastbrook playing would not have been enough to beat the grizz let alone the spurs

  8. chiell spurs fan says:

    there’s no way kawhi can stop lebron scoring his the best player in nba right now….but sadly he face spurs in finals remember how he dominate the 2007 playoff and then they all thought he will just crash the rim and bulldozer the spurs defense in 2007 because how he dominate the playoff even the best defender of the spurs bruce bowen cant even match up with the strenght of lebron…and then what happen??spurs is A-Team they fine ways..there;s no way the just rely on kawhi guarding lebron its a team effort…he’s a beast no one can stop him…but spurs is a great team im very confident that if the spurs steal 1 home court in miami its 80% chance our spurs will win our 5th ring!go spurs go!!

  9. Craig says:

    he is going to get ripped apart by Lebron. T-Mac should get the chance to see if he can slow Lebron, otherwise Lebron will just walk all over Kawhi

  10. lilmike says:

    who on the spurs is old besides ginobli and Duncan?

  11. Don says:

    Leonard is a nice addition.

  12. Don says:

    The Spurs in 6. Their big three are healthy, rested and ready to battle.

  13. Michael Bryant says:

    As of now no one can obstruct LBJ.. I’ll go for miami…

  14. Marc " The Master" says:

    miami at 5.

  15. NBAfan says:

    The Spurs are way tool old to match the supreme athleticism and dexterity of the HEAT……….while the Spurs won their last championship a real long time ago, the HEAT are in the finals for the 3rd consecutive year.
    Clearly, the HEAT are winning this series big time!!!

    • spurs4life says:

      you’re missing something with that “way too old” you have there… Old = Experience = Championships….extreme athletism? oh please…wade is banged up and you have bosh who’s afraid to go to the basket and wants to be a shooter? please… Fundamentals will always win against talents.

  16. deJavu says:

    spurs in 6..

  17. Tilion Stagnaro says:

    San Diego State represent!!! It was amazing watching him play in college. He really stood out amongst everyone else on the court. Glad to see him blossom into a well-respected player in the NBA. The ceiling is high for Mr. Leonard!

  18. hipster says:

    Leonard is going to learn a lot alright. A lot about flopping.

    I’m taking bets on what will cause the first LeFlop:

    -Parker drives past him to the lane and LeFlop jumps 13 feet backwards both arms flailing as if he’d been hit by an 18 wheeler. He proceeds to LeSlide on his buttocks another 12 feet backwards.

    -A Timmy pick where no contact at all is made but LeFlop collapses, grabs his neck like it’s been broken and writhes around on the ground for 4 minutes.

    -Pop gives him a dirty stare and LeFlop falls down. He grabs his knee as if he tore an ACL.

    -Kawli plays good D, contests a jumpshot, makes no contact at all (verified by the replay) and LeFlop grabs his eye like it’s been gauged out. Later, a different replay shot shows a single tear cascading down LeFlop’s swollen cheek as he winks at the Spurs’ bench.

    -All 187 pounds of skinny Manu breathes a little too heavily causing LeFlop to fly into the crowd and spill a Bud Lite on a front row ticket holder. LeFlop incidentally steps on another fan’s foot with his right foot, but when he gets up, LeFlop is limping as if his left foot is hurt.

    • Loki says:

      That post made my day. Gross exaggeration of Lebron flopping but I get what you mean. Still you can’t deny Lebron’s skill even if he pulls some stupid antics. That’s why I think Kawhi will learn a thing or two.

    • HeatFan3862203 says:

      its absolutely how childish and ridiculous all this hate towards Lebron James is getting. If he was playing on your team I guarantee you would not mind what he does on the court. But since he isn’t you have people who probably have never played a organized basketball game talking trash and hating. GET A LIFE AND STOP HATING ON THE “BEST” PLAYER IN THE WORLD! GEEZ!

      • You'rewrongimright says:

        Actually my teammates on my high school team flop and i hate it, its a punk way to play and a disgrace to basketball. Just because people point out lebrons flopping doesnt mean its automatically hate, Manu Ginobili flops sometimes and i dont like it. I call it when i see it. its just miami and lebron tend to do it with a lot more frequency than most

    • skrutz says:

      …. what about good old Ginobli? Flopobli? Flopu Ginobli? His name doesn’t work all that well, but you get the picture.

      • Chris says:

        Difference is Manu isn’t being called the best basketball player in the league. Everyone knows Manu flops, you even say Lebron flops and people want to bite your head off like you just insulted their mother or something. To Lebron’s fans he can do no wrong, I’m a fan of Manu and I will straight up tell you that man needs to stop flopping, he’d probably be a heck of a lot healther if he didn’t.

  19. SPURS-TACULAR says:

    That’s right … LIFE will GO ON …

    after the SPURS dismantle the HEAT and win Championship #5 !!!

  20. Loki says:

    Leonard adds a certain spark to the team. Maybe it’s his youth and style of play, but if he keeps an open mind and keeps working on his game he’s going to keep the Spurs in the Playoff along with Parker once Duncan is gone. Win or lose this finals I’m sure he’s going to learn a lot having to guard a guy like Lebron, could also significantly impact his game moving forward!

  21. Erlo says:

    Life will go on … and Lebron will have his second championship. Go HEAT!

    • 34yr fan says:

      Right….Erlo….Life always goes on …. and James will have Another summer to think about what went wrong….Again !!

      • 34yr fan says:

        ….He will then be a 3-time loser and 1-time winner …not many can say that. Spurs in 5 or 6………….GO_SPURS_GO !!!!!