Can Kawhi Deliver Once Again?
Kawhi Leonard transformed the fortunes of the Toronto Raptors in the 2018/19 NBA season to guide the franchise to their first Championship. The question is can he repeat the feat with the Los Angeles Clippers to swing the balance of power in the city towards Doc Rivers’ men?
The Clippers begin the restart as the second seed in the Western Conference and will need to perform heroics to beat out the Los Angeles Lakers for top spot. Rivers’ men will have to find their form again, although everyone is in the same boat. They have experience on their side and will be a tough act to topple, especially boasting arguably the best big-game player in the NBA on their roster.
A Man For the Big Stage
Leonard has been the man for the big stage since his arrival in the league in 2011. During the San Antonio Spurs’ run to the crown in 2014, Kawhi was on the spot in the NBA Finals, defying LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. He was named Finals MVP for the calibre of his defensive display, while he was also on point at the other end of the court in support of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. It was no surprise to see Leonard take over the mantle of the leader on the court from Duncan following his retirement.
Due to the excellence of Leonard and coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs duelled the Golden State Warriors in the 2016/17 Western Conference Finals. Leonard alone had the Warriors and their superstars on the ropes. However, a twist of fate ended the Finals in one swift turn as Leonard fell awkwardly in a collision with Zaza Pachulia, ruling him out of action. The Warriors capitalised and overturned a 25-point deficit before cruising into the Finals.
Making The Difference
Leonard is a difference-maker on the court, he raised the standards around him, allowing team-mates to overcome past failures. It was the case last season following his trade move to the Raptors, which resulted in DeMar DeRozan travelling in the opposite direction to the Spurs. DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were the integral cogs of Toronto’s side that had finished as the top-three seed for three years on the bounce. They were halted by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers – losing each contest against their rivals, including being swept in successive years.
It prompted a change with Nick Nurse arriving as coach and Leonard joined in a landmark deal. The Raptors’ move paid dividends – none more so than Kawhi’s series-clinching shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Semi-Finals. He drove Toronto through the high-powered Milwaukee Bucks before earning his revenge over the ailing Warriors in the Finals. The 29-year-old proved he could do it with the Raptors now he has to raise his game once more to deliver the title for the Clippers.
Can Kawhi Rise To The Occasion Again?
The Clippers are considered the third favourites behind the Lakers and the Bucks to win the crown this term. Monitoring their odds among the leading NBA bookmakers and capitalising on their offers could be a wise move. It may be worth backing them sooner rather than later as those odds could narrow based on their performances – especially when the playoffs begin. Kawhi will take centre stage for the Clippers as he did for the Raptors. Unlike his final days in San Antonio, he’s not being asked to carry the entire team.
Last year he had Lowry and Pascal Siakam along with others to ease the burden. This season he has Paul George and Lou Williams, while there are other talented players to emerge off the bench. Leonard will have to have the signature moments. When the stage gets bigger, he raises the standard of his displays. The Lakers may have LeBron and Anthony Davis, but the Clippers will be fielding the best big-game player in the NBA at the present moment. That could be the difference once again for another team that has been starved off success.