The San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat 4-1 in the NBA Finals last night on Father’s Day with Kawhi Leonard earning the Bill Russell Trophy for being the Most Valuable Player (MVP) during the series. It was the fifth NBA championship for the Spurs, but only the first for Kawhi. He became the second youngest player to win the award and did it at the third youngest age of all-time. Magic Johnson won NBA MVP at the age of 20 and 22 previously.
Leonard actually stole the third youngest spot from fellow teammate Tim Duncan. Duncan won the MVP of the NBA Finals at the age of 23 back in 1999 earning coach Gregg Popovich his first title. Duncan also became the first player ever to lift the NBA Title in three separate decades. Popovich has nothing but good things to say about the young 22-year-old from Compton, California, mentioning that many of their talks are one-way because Leonard is so reserved he does not often say much back to the coach, but is always listening. The Spurs coach continued saying that Leonard is a great learner who is super-competitive. A young man that has the drive to be one of the best in the NBA and how that is an uncommon trait in today’s game, especially at such a young age. Popovich also said that the Finals MVP is early to practice, stays late and just wants more. “He wants me and the coaches to push him,” Popovich finished.
It was an extra special moment for Kawhi Leonard to win the NBA Title as the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat and also to win the NBA MVP on Father’s Day because sadly his father passed away in 2008 in a tragic accident. He was shot down at the car wash he owned in Compton, California. There is still no suspect in the drive-by murder. It must have been an extra special day for Leonard to win such acclaim on an already emotional day for the young man. “Basketball helps me take my mind off things, picking me up every day when I’m feeling down,” he said in an interview back in High School.
It seems that Kawhi Leonard has an uncanny ability to elevate his game when it comes to big moments. His career playoff numbers exceed his regular season numbers in almost every statistical category. He has started every playoff game he has ever played in, 52, and he averages more minutes during the playoffs at 32.6 per game compared to his 28.0 per game during the regular season. Leonard is already a very good shooter averaging over 50 percent from the floor and 37 percent from the three-point line, but when it comes to the playoffs he uped his game to shoot 52 percent from the floor and 41 percent from behind the arc. His rebounding jumped up 1.5 per game in the playoffs to 7.3 with his overall points per game also going up 1.6 to 12.5 per game. Not gaudy numbers but consistent.
Leonard was tasked in the past two series, first against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then against the Miami Heat, with stopping two of the most premier scorers in the game today, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. He is a lock down defender who averages around 1.5 steals and half a block a game. In Sunday’s third consecutive win against the Heat, LeBron James started off on fire with 17 points, but then was almost non-existent because Leonard was covering him closer and was not afraid to get physical with James. “The first two games, he didn’t play so well,” James said about Kawhi. “I thought he attacked more in the last three games, shot the ball extremely well.”
Over the course of the series with the Heat Leonard averaged 1.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, 2.0 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 17.8 points on an amazingly high 61.2 percent from the field overall and 57.9 percent from behind the arc. In the final three games, all of which were wins for San Antonio, Kawhi shot 69 percent and scored 71 points on only 35 shots all the while being assigned as the main defender on LeBron James.
Leonard commented upon his father on Sunday saying “It’s a very special meaning for me, knowing that he’s gone and I was able to win a championship on Father’s Day,” He continued that he was happy with win the Championship of course but has moved on in the six years since his father was murdered and now is focusing on himself and not letting the past haunt him. But yet it was still a special moment for Leonard to win the MVP accolade even if his reserved self did not let his emotions get the best of him on Father’s Day, as the Spurs won their fifth NBA Title over the two-time defending champions Miami Heat.
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash