Title: Kawhi Leonard relishing marquee matchup with LeBron James, if he can play
Date: November 3, 2018
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic, I wrote about Kawhi Leonard’s competitive history with LeBron James and why he’ll find Sunday’s meeting so fun, if he can play.
LOS ANGELES – It is as great a trial as there is in the NBA: A playoff series spent guarding LeBron James during his peak. A number of top defenders have been put through that same ringer, many of them Toronto Raptors, but few who have applied the lessons learned quite as quickly or as effectively as Kawhi Leonard.
It was in 2012-13, just Leonard’s sophomore season, when he helped the San Antonio Spurs take James’ Heat to seven games before James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh hoisted their second consecutive Larry O’Brien Trophy. The No. 15 pick in 2011, Leonard was always well beyond where he’d been projected to go, playing big minutes for a Finals-bound Spurs team. He’d earned votes for Most Improved Player and while he was a year away from his first All-Defensive Team nod, his reputation was growing.
A year later, it was Leonard not only winning an NBA Championship opposite those same Heat but also earning NBA Finals MVP honors at age 22, the third-youngest Finals MVP ever. It was at the same time a culmination of the lessons learned from this same series a year earlier and a warning of what was to come. In the years that followed, Leonard’s offensive role would expand, he’d win Defensive Player of the Year twice, place top-three in MVP voting twice and generally establish himself as a top-five, maybe top-three player in the NBA. A dozen hard-fought games against the best in the world had a fair hand in shaping that growth.