Return of The Kid
And like that, we have two small forwards again.
Despite the Hornets making the game close in the end (they have a horrible record, but they always play hard), it never felt like the Spurs might lose. Again, the schedule was a factor, only this time in our favor. Kicking off perhaps our first real home stand of the year, with two days off before, the team was full of energy, if lacking in overall sharpness. The Hornets, on the other hand, are smack dab in the middle of a four games in five nights stretch.
And while the Spurs looked a little flat at times, the biggest culprit working against them was really shooting, particularly from 3. The team shot 4-18, for a not-good 22%. If they make just 3 more (putting them at their season average of 38%), this is a totally different game.
What was most interesting about this game, though, was the return of Kawhi Leonard from a 2 week injury that seemed to last about 5 or 6. The Spurs rolled off an impressive record in his absence, which makes it even crazier to realize that team played without a true SF for over a month. With Jackson and now Leonard returning, some normalcy should return to the line-ups and rotations.
We all know and love Jackson, and what he brings to this team is immeasurable (the word “toughness” is most often used, which is credible). But what Leonard brings recalls a different, equally as abstract word: special. There’s just something about his game that always seems to be a net positive (kind of like Manu, most of the time), regardless of what he’s doing or where he’s contributing specifically. He’s a tough rebounded, good shooter, good passer, and excellent defender. With his massive hands, he makes things happen on the defensive end. The two biggest plays of the game may have been his two steals in the 4th quarter.
Even coming back from a long absence and put on limited minutes, it’s obvious that Pop trusts him. When the game was getting a bit too tight in the last half of the fourth quarter, two people were summoned from the bench to the scorer’s table: Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard.
I forgot how much I missed watching him play, that implacable demeanor, the understated freakish athleticism, the subtle intelligence. He isn’t a big name, nor part of the “Big Three”. But he is an important piece of any playoff aspirations, a game changer.
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