The San Antonio Spurs have enjoyed unprecedented success over the last two decades thanks to an experienced core led by future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.
But a new star has emerged in San Antonio, and his ascent into the NBA’s elite has been meteoric.
Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard initially made his mark as a lockdown defender, earning NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors in 2014 and winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2015. Yet he’s also made huge strides offensively. The 24-year-old is shooting the lights out this season, converting at a 51.3 percent clip from the field that got a bump Thursday when he drilled 7 of 9 3-pointers in a blowout win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Boston Celtics have one of the better defenses in the NBA, but head coach Brad Stevens knows the C’s will have their work cut out for them against Leonard when the two teams face off Saturday.
Stevens had some pretty high praise for Leonard ahead of Saturday’s contest.
“He and LeBron (James) are the two strongest, biggest 3s just from a physical standpoint, and then he hits seven (3-pointers) in a row against Memphis,” Stevens said, via MassLive.com.
“The guy’s a first-team All-NBA player for sure in my opinion. He just changes the game on both ends. He’s Defensive Player of the Year. Against us (last month), he and (LaMarcus) Aldridge made really tough shots to beat us. And they also very much altered us on the other end.”
Boston lost by eight points to San Antonio back on Nov. 1, a game in which Leonard notched 19 points and helped limit the Celtics to just 87 points.
The Spurs have been pretty much unbeatable since then, rolling into Saturday with the NBA’s second-best record at 16-4. Yet Stevens actually was pleased with his team’s effort against San Antonio in that last meeting.
“When I went back and watched that game, I was not disappointed in how we played,” he said. “I thought we played very, very well, and I thought we missed shots that we have to hit.”
Thumbnail photo via Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and guard Patty Mills (8) celebrate after a score by Leonard against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. San Antonio defeated Memphis 103-83.