Kawhi Leonard made the NBA’s MVP race just a little bit tighter on Monday night.
In a big 112-110 win over the Houston Rockets, Leonard showed why he may be the most dominant two-way player in the league, carrying the Spurs in a crucial 24 seconds to pick up a big win.
With 30 seconds remaining, and the Rockets up one, Leonard took control, first pulling up for a gutsy three-pointer to put the Spurs up one.
Then, ten seconds later, as James Harden raced down court for a layup, Leonard not only fought through a screen to continue his chase of Harden, he leapt, perfectly timing his jump to pin Harden’s layup against the glass. The Spurs controlled the boards and held onto the win.
Manu Ginobili’s face said it all:
Leonard finished with 39 points on 12-18 shooting, 4-5 from three, with six rebounds, five assists, one steal, and two blocks.
After the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made a convincing case for why Leonard could be MVP.
“The block is what makes him special,” Popovich said of Leonard’s late-game heroics. “Obviously, the three, you know Harden makes threes. Kawhi makes threes. This guy makes threes, that guy makes threes. Steph [Curry] makes threes. Everybody does that. But I don’t know who goes to the other end and does what he does — not that many people on a consistent basis, and entire game, game after game.”
In a season where Harden and Russell Westbrook have dominated the MVP conversation, it’s getting tougher to overlook Leonard, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. The Spurs will make the playoffs for the 20th straight season and post their 18th straight 50-win season. Leonard is posting career-highs in points and assists per game, running a Spurs team without Tim Duncan for the first time in 19 years.
The stats may not be as gaudy as Harden, Westbrook, or LeBron James, but Leonard is doing it on both ends in a year when the Spurs looked as though they may finally slow down. Obviously, they haven’t, and Leonard is a huge part of that.
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