When all is said and done, the San Antonio Spurs drew first blood against the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA finals. It was Tony Parker’s heroic banked shot that gave the Spurs a breathable lead with 5.2 seconds left. However, beyond Parker’s 21 points and 6 assists, it was also Kawhi Leonard’s defense that gave the Spurs the win. The fifteenth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft is a defensive stopper who shoots corner shots much like in the mold of Bruce Bowen.
Leonard hounded Lebron throughout the night, making Lebron work extra hard on his shots despite a triple double performance with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists.
Kawhi stands 6-foot-7 but he sports a massive 7-foot-3.75 inch wingspan which is longer than 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler. This gives Leonard the ability to cover Lebron without exerting so much effort. Even though the Spurs don’t have a lot of strong perimeter defenders but Leonard somehow made a difference.
With Lebron James matching his lowest scoring output of the playoffs shooting 7 out of 16 shots including his last shot in the final 5 seconds, credit goes to Leonard for his determination and perseverance to stop Lebron. You might wonder what happened to the eastern finals with Indiana’s length and size in Paul George, and yet they had a hard time containing Lebron compared to Kawhi. Well Sports Science by ESPN explained the difference. Kawhi with his freakish wingspan can tap a four feet wide pole in just 0.46 of a second which is faster, than it takes Lebron James to release a jumper at 0.54 of a second. Even if Lebron has the ability to release a jumper more than nine feet, Leonard has the ideal skill set to slow him down.
On the biggest game of his career, Kawhi Leonard made his biggest defensive play against Lebron – he stole the ball from James that lead to Tony Parker’s spin move that changed the momentum.
Game one belongs to the Spurs, although Leonard contributed an impressive ten points with ten rebounds, it was his defense that gave them the win. Three more wins before clinching a championship and for Kawhi, three more brilliant defensive games.