As the flames of scandal and controversy levitate and sizzle around the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, now seems as good a time as ever to look back on and remember the stoic Spur superstar’s career and it’s best moments.
#5 2012 NBA Playoffs
Kawhi’s first taste of the NBA postseason came during his rookie year with the Spurs. San Antonio had the league’s best record at 50-16 during the strike-shortened 2012 season, entering the playoffs on a ten game winning streak. Kawhi was a critical piece off the bench at a youthful 20 years old, averaging 7.9 Points, 1.3 steals (which led the team) and 5.1 rebounds throughout the Spurs three-round run in the playoffs. This run ended with a surprise six-game defeat to the young Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder trio in the Western Conference Finals.
#4 Career High Scoring Night, 1/21/2017
Midway through last season, the Spurs faced off with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Heralded as a potential duel between Lebron and Kawhi, the two elite small forwards did not disappoint. Lebron finished the night with an efficient 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists, but it was Kawhi who grabbed all the buzz and headlines, scoring a career-best 41 points in a San Antonio victory. A classic example of Kawhi’s trademark silent fearlessness, daringly besting one of the great players in the history of the game while pouring on the buckets.
#3 First All-Star Game
Kawhi made the leap many had been waiting for during the 2015-2016 season. Up to that point, so many had seen the clear-cut talent and two-way ability, but Leonard had yet to put it all together on a nightly basis. Finally, in 2016, the moment had arrived. Kawhi averaged 21.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals as the Spurs finished the season with a 67-15 record. The stats didn’t even begin to tell the full story, as Kawhi became the leagues best perimeter defender and one of it’s best pure scorers. For his trouble, he was invited to his first all-star game, held in Toronto Canada, where he scored 17 points and grabbed two steals.
#2 First Defensive Player Of The Year Award
Leonard has famously taken home two defensive player of the year awards, the first in 2015, the second during the aforementioned 2016 season. It was a tight vote in 2015, with Draymond Green also very much in the running. In fact, Green actually earned more first-place votes than Kawhi, but the latter had more second, third, fourth, etc. place votes, which put him over the top. It is entirely possible that Leonard has not yet earned his last DPOY award, as he is one of the great defensive players the league has seen in a long time.
#1 2014 NBA Finals
To this point, Kawhi’s greatest NBA moment came during the Spurs five-game defeat in the 2014 NBA Finals of the Miami Heat. After a slow start in games 1 and 2, Leonard put it all together in Miami in game 3 with 29 points and excellent defense on Lebron James. Kawhi kept his two-way play going over the last two games, finishing the series with over 20 points game over the previous 3, and 17.8 on 62 percent shooting overall. His proficiency on both offense and defense earned him Finals MVP. It was a critical and historic step on his rise to superstardom.