Kawhi’s Selfless Attitude on and off the Court
Photo Credit: USA Today
Kawhi Leonard just defeated the reigning champions of the NBA on their home floor twice in a row.
And he doesn’t seem to care that much.
In Game 4, Leonard joined Michael Jordan as the only player to hit 35 points on the road without a single turnover in the Finals. He was locked in, and he didn’t so much as crack a smile on his way out. Leonard is a unique spirit in the NBA. He exudes an effortless cool unlike any the game has seen since the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“It’s not over yet so I can’t say we’re better. The key to tonight’s win was as you guys know, playing defense,” Leonard said in his post-game presser.
Toronto’s defense was elite, as they have been since they flipped the switch in game three against Milwaukee. Despite allowing 27 and 28 from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson respectively, Toronto seemed to ignore non-shooters at point, forcing them to drive and go up against the joint ballistic-grade barrier of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, who were often on the floor at the same time in the latter half of the game.
The reporter continued to prod, looking for self-adulation from Leonard about his “determination,” his “ability to defend, and the Klaw stopped him short.
“I pretty much just said it, our defense, our willingness to stay in the game,” Leonard repeated.
He never uses personal pronouns of any sort, always referring back to his team. Leonard’s body language in these interviews screams in its timidity. He often has his face in his hands, shakes his head while looking downward, intersperses his sentences with “um,” pretty much everything you’re not supposed to do in a job interview.
Leonard is overqualified however, and the glory of his on court performance as well as the eloquence and basketball-IQ with which his answers play only add to his mystique. He doesn’t read like a player who had excessive help sent at him at every turn.
Instead of finding a single favorable match-up, the Warriors have been doubling Leonard and falling in the same pitfalls as Milwaukee. Down 12, with only a little under eight minutes remaining, Steph Curry leaves Danny Green in the corner to aid all-NBA defender Klay Thompson against a driving Leonard, who then promptly kicks it out to Green to send them further out of reach.
This team didn’t need Kevin Durant to even the series, they needed a coach.
Steve Kerr often relies on the ability of what is undoubtedly one of the greatest teams ever assembled, but the Raptors are not the Lebron James-led Cavaliers. They’re multifaceted, they can shoot from anywhere on the floor, and they play better perimeter defense that any of those teams did.
There is more to worry about than just a single star with this team, and watching the vaunted Warriors allow the Raptors’ supporting cast too much room to breath is the most surprising part of the series so far. Adjustments need to be made if the Warriors hope to retire the Oracle in a victorious fashion.
Leonard was asked what he thought the team’s performance has meant to the city of Toronto, the country of Canada. His response was “um, I’m really not sure.. You’d have to ask someone on the street.”
Leonard doesn’t publicly embrace his success and there is something undeniably appealing about such a humble personality.
“I don’t play hero basketball,” Leonard said, the man in the midst of one of the finest playoff performances of all time. “I’m not playing for fans. I’m not out here trying to break records.”
His success comes from a love of the game, and it’s startling in its overt purity.