Last night’s game against the Rockets left us with so much to parse, that it is a shame that the game was a regular season meet up and not a game six in the playoffs. So it goes.
Let us note that This Blog did the same hands-to-head move that Manu did here:
Manu Ginobili's reaction to Kawhi Leonard's three pointer is the best. pic.twitter.com/15KuJpggMq
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) March 7, 2017
Manu said he reacted because he knows how difficult that shot was. I certainly was not expecting him to pull up and fire there with so much time left. That made it more of a good shot than a heat check. He got a great look in part because no one really expected him to pull it right then.
The Sequence was amazing, but his entire fourth quarter was remarkable. He had 17 in the frame while holding MVP-front-runner James Harden to 1-5 shooting, and a couple of turnovers. Great offense may beat great defense, but James Harden was not great in that last quarter, while Kawhi was.
Leonard is often compared to Tim because he is consistently great, and lets others talk about said greatness. I for one, am beginning to even take Kawhi for granted even during this great season. He won Western Conference Player of the week thanks to a ridiculous seven days:
Leonard led the Spurs to a 3-0 week behind averages of 32.0 points (second in the West), 9.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a league-best 4.0 steals. On March 1, he hit the game-winning basket with 2.4 seconds remaining to cap a 31-point outing in a 100-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers. The All-Star forward closed the week with 34 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and a season-high six steals in a 97-90 overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 4. That performance marked his 90th straight game with at least 10 points, the longest streak by a Spur since Tim Duncan’s 91-game run ended in 2003.
Yes, I nearly forgot that he hit the game winner against the Pacers, had a clutch steal+assist to survive in New Orleans, and tossed in a cool 34 in the win against the T-Wolves.
While this week has been exciting, fun, and probably bolstered the Kawhi-for-MVP candidacy, it has not been because of great Spurs basketball. The argument can be made that any great team struggles a bit in the slog that is the NBA regular season. The ugly wins are still wins, and the mark of a great team is that they find a way.
I can get behind that argument while still having the same reservations about the squad’s play.
Let us hand out some acknowledgements and some criticisms:
He is such a great addition. His athleticism and basketball IQ are exactly what is needed on this team. He grabbed six rebounds in the fourth quarter to lead the team. Once the Spurs focused on Clint Capela’s rolling toward the basket, it was David Lee disrupting that pass.
He did a commendable job guarding Harden on the switches early. That the Beard roasted him for a step back is not a mark against him. Later, he hedged hard on the screens to allow Harden’s defender to get back in position. Aldridge had a repuation for laziness on defense in Portland, but he has had a hand in defending Steph and Harden very well this and last season.
A rest allowed him to hit threes. He didn’t have his legs and needed a rest. That rest gave him the juice to attack like the TP of old during a crucial stretch. He still is a streaky enough shooter that opponents will allow him long looks at the basket, and he absolutely has to make them pay in the postseason like he did against the Rockets.
When he is hitting those threes from the top of the key, I feel really good. When he is missing bunnies in the lane and flopping to draw a foul? I feel really bad. His work defensively has been masked by David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon, but he will be exposed even more in the playoffs. Signing Pau was a compromise for more offense. The deal will pay off for the Spurs when he is able to carry some of the load off Kawhi in tough situations in the playoffs. Think back to last year in Game Six vs OKC when David West was missing bunnies in the lane, LMA went cold, and everyone focused on Kawhi. That is why Pau is here. In the mean time, we have to hope he drains more threes.