#360view: Kawhi Leonard masterclass reminds of San Antonio’s NBA title credentials

Jay Asser 10:31 07/04/2015
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San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard was MVP in last season's finals.

Here’s your annual reminder that you should never, ever write off the San Antonio Spurs.

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Hopefully you weren’t one of the many to count them out and fall victim to the longest-running magic trick in the NBA.

Abracadabra. The Spurs have once again pulled a title push out of their top hat.

This isn’t magic of course. It only seems that way because the supernatural might be more believable at this point than a team being so consistently great for nearly two decades without wielding unknown forces.

It’s crazy what San Antonio are doing this season, but it’s also so typical for them. They play their best basketball when it matters and thanks to a tandem of one of the greatest coaches and players in NBA history, the system keeps churning success.

We knew this too. The Spurs won the championship last June after suffering one of the most debilitating losses the year before. That was it. Never again would we bury them too soon, until there was absolutely no way they would rise from the dead.

And yet when our faith was truly tested to its limit in the first half of this season and San Antonio were at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, we started breaking out the shovels and if not digging their grave, at least tracing the outline.

Around the same time, the Spurs’ NFL doppelganger, the New England Patriots, were fittingly on their way to winning the Super Bowl after also being left for dead early in their season.

It’s far from a foregone conclusion that San Antonio will follow a similar fate, but the scenario  appears much more likely than it was just two or three months ago.

Ever since the Spurs lost four straight at the end of February, they’ve reeled off 17 wins in their last 20 games and their resurgence culminated on Sunday when they knocked off the league’s world-beaters, the Golden State Warriors, handily.

San Antonio won by 15 points, but the final score wasn’t indicative of how thoroughly they dominated a team who’ve been the ones dominating all season. The Spurs at one point led by 28 points and the result was Golden State’s largest margin of defeat.

The best player on the court wasn’t MVP favourite Stephen Curry or his fellow ‘Splash Brother’ Klay Thompson. It wasn’t Spurs engine-starter Tony Parker or all-time great Tim Duncan. It was Kawhi Leonard and it wasn’t really close.

From scoring to defending and everything in between, Leonard did it all. It’s no coincidence San Antonio’s revival has aligned with the Finals MVP’s elite level of play and it’s not even a question as to who the most important player for the franchise is from this point on.

“San Antonio’s revival has aligned with Kawhi Leonard’s elite level and it’s no question who the most important player for them is from this point on.”

While the Spurs have risen, the rest of the West has looked much more mortal than anticipated. That’s largely due to the crippling injuries of Kevin Durant and Wesley Matthews, essentially ending any title hopes the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers had. But it’s also because no team outside San Antonio seem capable of knocking off the Warriors.

What at first looked like a bloodbath in the West has now turned into an inevitable clash between two teams.

Even if the Spurs aren’t the ones left standing, they’ve already managed to trick us all one more time.

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