20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Kawhi Not? Leonard Leads Way as Raptors are One Win Away From Dethroning Warriors

Kawhi Leonard dominated in all phases of the game as his Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors 105-92 to take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Only one team has ever blown a 3-1 Finals lead--the Warriors, in 2016 versus LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. Leonard finished with a game-high 36 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and a game-high four steals while shooting 11-22 from the field (including 5-9 from three point range) and 9-9 from the free throw line. He also had no turnovers in a team-high 41 minutes of action. Leonard is well on his way to claiming his second Finals MVP in the past six seasons. Serge Ibaka contributed 20 points off of the bench in just 22 minutes, Pascal Siakam added 19 points and Kyle Lowry had a significant impact that is not captured by his pedestrian box score numbers (10 points, team-high seven assists).

The most important name in the Golden State box score is the name that did not appear: Kevin Durant. Have you seen any articles in the past few days about "gravity" and about how much better the Warriors are without Durant? The silence on that front is deafening, and refreshing. The playoffs do a wonderful job of myth-busting. Not only can everyone see the truth now about Durant versus Curry but every year in the playoffs we get to examine--and refute--the notion that James Harden is a "foundational player." There are major cracks in the "foundation" when Harden falls apart every postseason without fail and when he cannot lead his team to a series victory against a Warriors team sans Durant who--in case you did not realize it--is clearly Golden State's best player.

Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney both returned from the injuries that caused them to miss Toronto's game three win and they both made significant contributions--a team-high 28 points on 11-18 field goal shooting for Thompson, 10 points and six rebounds off of the bench for Looney--but, as is often the case in the NBA, these games are decided by which team's best player has the most impact. With Durant sidelined, Curry is the Warriors' best player, and he finished with 27 points and six assists while shooting 9-22 from the field (including 2-9 from three point range). Curry did not have a terrible game but he did not have a good game by his standards, and he certainly did not play as well as Leonard did. It should not be surprising that Curry is wearing down as the series progresses. Size matters in the NBA and that is a major reason that guys like Curry and Steve Nash simply are not as good or as valuable as Finals MVPs such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant--and Kawhi Leonard.

Draymond Green narrowly missed posting a triple double (10 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds) but he also had the second-worst plus/minus number on the team (-13) and he often let his temper get the best of him; he was whistled for four fouls and one technical foul but on several occasions he chirped loudly enough to earn a second technical foul and automatic ejection. While Lowry's impact was more than the sum of his boxscore numbers during this game, it could fairly be said that Green's impact was less than the sum of his boxscore numbers during this game.

Much is said about Golden State's championship DNA and grit--deservedly so--but take note that in this key road game the Raptors bounced back to win after trailing by double figures in the first half. The Raptors started out the game shooting 3-13 from the field and in the first quarter Raptors not named Leonard shot 1-13 from the field; fortunately for Toronto, the Raptor named Leonard scored 14 first quarter points on 5-8 field goal shooting, so the Warriors only led 23-17 after the first stanza.

Toronto shot 15-44 (.351) from the field in the first half but only trailed 46-42 at halftime. During the famous "Rope a Dope" heavyweight boxing match between champion George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali, Foreman hit Ali with everything that he had for several rounds before Ali looked at him and asked, "That all you got, George?" Foreman later recalled that this was the moment he realized, "This ain't what I thought it was." The Warriors had their "This ain't what I thought it was" moment in the third quarter, starting with Leonard drilling back to back three pointers to give Toronto a 48-46 lead. The teams traded the lead for a little while but Leonard had set the tone for what turned out to be a 37-21 Toronto third quarter explosion, paced by Leonard's 17 points on 5-7 field goal shooting.

The Raptors led 82-72 with 9:35 left in the fourth quarter after Shaun Livingston hit two free throws. Livingston clocked Fred Van Vleet with an inadvertent elbow on the play, opening a nasty gash underneath Van Vleet's right eye and knocking out multiple teeth. Van Vleet has been a major spark plug for the Raptors. If there was ever a time for Curry to take over and the Warriors to make a series-saving run, that was it--but, instead, Ibaka answered with a three point play on the next possession, Thompson missed a long three pointer and Leonard drilled a "That's all, folks" three pointer to put the Raptors up 88-72. The Warriors never got closer than eight points the rest of the way and when they were down 10 with about two and a half minutes to go Curry uncorked an airball that punctuated the final sentence in the Durant-Curry "debate" that made about as much sense as "debating"whether or not the Earth is flat.

The series is not over until one team wins four games, so now is not the time to place this series in historical context, but two diverse sets of thought come to mind:

1) The last time that we saw a healthy Kawhi Leonard playing for the San Antonio Spurs, they were pounding the Golden State Warriors--with Kevin Durant--before a dirty Zaza Pachulia play took Leonard out of the series. There is a lot of talk about Gregg Popovich and the "Spurs way" but ever since Leonard got hurt and then left San Antonio the Spurs have not been anything special while the Raptors are on the verge of winning the franchise's first title. The common denominator in dominating the Warriors for the Spurs and then the Raptors is Leonard. Alienating and then trading Leonard is not adding much to Popovich's legacy.

2) After hearing so much about "gravity" and about Golden State's regular season record without Durant here are some numbers to consider in the next few days before game five: Curry has no Finals MVPs in his first four Finals appearances, he has a 1-6 record in his last seven Finals games without Durant and in his last full Finals without Durant the Warriors became the only team in NBA history to squander a 3-1 lead. "Gravity," indeed.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 12:53 AM



At Saturday, June 08, 2019 6:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember Nicky? That big ol' boy who would not give it a rest in the comments section of your "Houston has no more excuses" writing? We will likely never see him again. I tell you, I never quite understood what kind of people you were referring to whenever you used "stat guru" as a negative connotation. But after reading all that li'l Nicky had to say? THAT is a stat guru if I ever saw one.

I'm not as into this sport as much as I used to be, but I still pay attention to what happens in the playoffs. It's baffling, how much it didn't work out for Kawhi in San Antonio and how much he's emerged now. What was going on with that team down there? Of course, I bet if I look through all your writings, you've probably answered this question in great detail.

At Saturday, June 08, 2019 11:48:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Someone posted an image of Kawhi Leonard joining a very exclusive club of NBA players who scored 30 points a game for 14-plus playoffs games. Only Hakeem and Jordan have more with 16, and Bryant with 15.

Does this historical context, while heavily weighed with deeper playoff series, help place Leonard's performance among the very greatest playoff runs of all-time?

At Sunday, June 09, 2019 2:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, I do remember, and it became tiresome to endlessly litigate points that are obvious. I don't mind a good debate when there are legitimately multiple ways to view a situation but the extent to which some people will go to argue that Curry is better than Durant is just more than I can take, particularly when that comes on the heels of previous similarly bizarre "debates" about Dragic being an elite point guard, etc.

At Sunday, June 09, 2019 2:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That specific subject--a comparison of Leonard's 30 point-plus playoff games this postseason to other great playoff runs--will be the subject of an in depth article after the Finals.

At Monday, June 10, 2019 4:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harden definitely didn't fall apart this playoffs and led HOU to a 3-2 lead vs GS last year before losing, which is the best effort vs GS(with KD). And he had a phenomenal series vs GS averaging 35/7/6 while shooting a high pct. Ironic you talk about busting myths when you continue your own Harden myth. If no KD for entire series this playoffs vs HOU, hard to see GS winning that, especially if other GS players injured as they are now vs TOR.

Curry's doing alright, but Leonard has been better obviously. I'm still not convinced Curry could ever lead a team to a title under normal circumstances throughout the entire season/playoffs, or even with stacked teams that he's played on these past 5 seasons. Regardless, we haven't seen it happen yet.

At Monday, June 10, 2019 5:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Longtime lurker but first time poster here. Generally I like a lot of your analyses and takes. However, it should be clear that it was largely Leonard and his camp that alienated the Spurs, rather than vice versa. Granted, I myself am a Spurs fan, but national sports media generally does a poor job of building an accurate narrative and getting details, and sometimes even facts, correct (as you sometimes point out in your own opinions about the value of James Harden, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant).

In the 2017-2018 season, Leonard disagreed with the Spurs medical team about his quad injury diagnosis (separate from the ankle injury he sustained in the 2017 playoffs) - the Spurs medical thought it was a less serious diagnosis that can be played through. Leonard disagreed and sought multiple second opinions before finding doctors in New York that thought his quad had a more serious diagnosis that would be made worse with overuse. The disagreement over the quad diagnosis is a valid reason for Kawhi wanting to leave the San Antonio Spurs - however, the way in which he treated the Spurs organization in the spring and summer of 2018 was totally unprofessional.

Kawhi played 9 games for the Spurs in December 2017 - January 2018, but decided he needed more rest to recovery from his injury, and played no more games for the rest of the season. During that time, the Spurs gave Kawhi the freedom to get those multiple second opinions from various doctors. However, during this same time, Kawhi made almost no contact or communications with the Spurs. In fact, at one point, when Spurs staff tried to meet Kawhi in New York, people with Kawhi hid him from the Spurs. No one on the Spurs knew what was going on with Kawhi in the spring to playoffs of 2018. This radio silence from Kawhi prompted a players-only meeting from the Spurs players, after which it has been reported that Kawhi felt ganged up on and further alienated from the Spurs. We don't really know much about what was said during the meeting - generally the Spurs, as well as Kawhi's group, keep most information close to the vest and divulge little to national media.

It is also worth noting that Kawhi did not travel with the Spurs during the 2018 playoffs. Even if he was not healthy, one would expect that a team's franchise player who is loyal to their team to at least show up to games to show their support for their team, if possible. Steph Curry did so when he was nursing injuries while the Warriors were in the playoffs. However, Kawhi was chilling in New York and posted a picture on social media showing such while the Spurs were trying their best to not get absolutely demolished by the Warriors without him.

At Monday, June 10, 2019 5:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(cont from above)

In the summer of 2018, Kawhi out of the blue demanded a trade to an LA team - after almost no communication with the Spurs for most of calendar year 2018. Many in San Antonio and some in the national media suspect that Kawhi's uncle, Dennis Robertson, wants Kawhi to play in a larger market than San Antonio. Kawhi and his family are also from southern California, so that likely another major reason for the demanding a trade to an LA team. Kawhi also threatened to sit out the entirety of the 2018-2019 season if he were not traded. During this trade demand, Leonard's camp claimed that the Spurs tried to push him to play when he was not ready. However, this is completely inconsistent with the Spurs medical staff track record of being conservative and valuing a player's long term health over short term winning (a great example being Tim Duncan), as well as the fact that the Spurs gave Kawhi the freedom to get multiple second opinions on his quad and rehab wherever he wanted for however long he wanted. This trade demand and threat to not play if not traded completely tanked his trade value. The Spurs were also taken aback by Kawhi's smearing of the Spurs team organization. The Spurs know that Kawhi is a Hall of Fame franchise level player and would not trade him unless they had no other choice. When LaMarcus Aldridge went up to Pop in private and asked for a trade, Aldridge brought up his grievances to Pop, and Pop decided that he was mostly in the wrong for trying to "overcoach" Aldridge. Generally, this is the Spurs way of dealing with unhappy players. Later that summer, after feeble attempts to try to negotiate with Kawhi and shopping for the best trade available, the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for Demar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a late 1st round pick.

Wanting to be traded to another team for disagreements over medical management or to play close to home are respectable reasons, and there are respectful ways to go about asking a trade (see Aldridge), but to ghost a team and then later demand a trade to LA or else you will not play and then make claims to tarnish the reputation of the Spurs organization when they had not done anything disrespectful or malignant is completely disrespectful to the Spurs organization and unprofessional conduct - especially considering the San Antonio Spurs are one of the most well-run and respected sports franchises in the USA. There is good reason why many people's opinions on Kawhi, both in San Antonio and nationally, soured in the summer of 2018.

I say all this because I still absolute love Kawhi's game, but am unhappy about how he left the Spurs, as well as upset with how the national media now is blaming the Spurs for trading away Kawhi now that he is on the brink of winning the Toronto Ratpors their first NBA championship, as if it were the Spurs fault and not Kawhi's that left.

At Monday, June 10, 2019 5:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


"Falling apart" is not just about numbers; it is about impact and it is about impact relative to reputation and role. Harden is often touted as the best player in the NBA. He is the reigning regular season MVP. With Durant out of action, if Harden is who he is supposed to be then he has to lead Houston to a victory in that series. Period, end of discussion. Guys who have played in the league at a high level understand that. Barkley, Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, etc.--the player commentators on TV all said after that series that Harden had failed and that it affected his legacy, particularly since his resume is already full of similar failures (I believe that it was Rose who correctly emphasized that point). This is not about just one play or one quarter or one game. Harden has way too many high level playoff games during which he has low level impact. He is who I have always said he is: an All-Star caliber player with Stephon Marbury-level delusions of grandeur. Marbury could not stand being number 2 to KG in Minnesota, so he left to be the number one guy on a bunch of teams that never won anything (KG was not a true number one, either, as he needed to be paired with a clutch scorer a la Sam Cassell or Paul Pierce, but that is a different story).

At Monday, June 10, 2019 5:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Spurs (1) misdiagnosed the severity of Leonard's quad injury and then (2) directly and indirectly floated the idea publicly that he is a malingerer. After those two things occurred, Leonard was understandably reluctant to communicate with the Spurs, because they had broken his trust on multiple levels. This is reminiscent of Portland misdiagnosing Bill Walton's foot injury, which led to a similar breakdown in trust (and a lawsuit regarding the team's medical practices). Walton was never the same physically, though it may very well be that his body was not suited for the rigors of professional sports (but playing on a broken foot that was misdiagnosed was not helpful for his long term health, to say the least).

At Monday, June 10, 2019 7:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you've criticized playing for stats (https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=13687278&postID=3458597108988046755); so what do you think of players who won't shoot heaves at the end of quarters, because doing so would hurt their shooting percentages -- even though it could lead to more points for their teams?

From https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/20147561/the-more-know-kevin-durant-more-see-how-star-ascended:

"He's a confessed buzzer-clutcher.

He's ditched the habit a bit since joining half-court-heave savant Stephen Curry, but Durant routinely will hold on to the ball and release it just a split second after the buzzer on long-distance, end-of-quarter shots. He's admitted to it back in 2013: "It depends on what I'm shooting from the field. First quarter, if I'm 4-for-4, I let it go. Third quarter, if I'm like 10-for-16 or 10-for-17, I might let it go. But if I'm like 8-for-19, I'm going to go ahead and dribble one more second and let that buzzer go off and then throw it up there. So it depends on how the game's going."

At Monday, June 10, 2019 8:42:00 PM, Blogger Tristan said...

It is refreshing and fantastic, indeed, to see actual NBA playoff competition demolish the myths and analytics-fueled claptrap that tend to ruin the enjoyment of the sport, and ultimately reveal the subjective biases of these so-called experts.

Leonard's game and build seems to be an amalgam of some of the greatest perimeter threats: Erving, Jordan, Pippen, Bryant, James. To paraphrase Jalen Rose when he compared Kobe to MJ, Kawhi is the Kobe "remix", with his precise handles, mid-range shooting, and sheer will to keep his team in the hunt. Kawhi also seems like he's the strongest (physically) 3-man to ever play, even over Lebron.

Draymond Green is versatile and unselfish, the defensive anchor and play-making luxury that the Warriors have, but he needs to score more, and not just be content throwing alley-oops to the bigs or passing to Curry or Thompson.

Serge Ibaka was, in my opinion, the x-factor for those old OKC teams. With his timely scoring and defensive presence, he has fulfilled a similar role for Toronto.

Let's go, Raptors!!

At Tuesday, June 11, 2019 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


Just to be clear, Nick isn't posting anymore because David asked him not to. No need to kick a man when he's down, even if you disagree strongly with his opinions.

At Tuesday, June 11, 2019 1:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't think that anyone is being "kicked" or that anyone is "down" and Nick certainly felt free to take shots at me and anyone else who did not subscribe to his precise basketball world view (I agreed with him on many things but disagreed with him greatly on some other things).

All I asked Nick to do was to stop posting on one particular subject: the same, rehashed stuff about Durant and Curry that had been discussed to death and that, in my opinion, is foolish, a position that has been amply supported by subsequent events.

The comments section provides an opportunity for readers to share their opinions about my posts. Sometimes I respond and sometimes I don't. The comments section is not meant to turn into a de facto website for anyone to endlessly rant about their own opinions, particularly when those rants turn sarcastic and demeaning--and, paraphrasing David Stern's response when asked who he consulted about some suspensions/punishments he levied, there is a committee of one that decides when a particular thread has run its course.

At Tuesday, June 11, 2019 10:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are correct that I do not like it when anyone in a team sport plays more for individual stats than for trying to win games/series/championships.

That being said, on the scale of such "crimes," there are "felonies" and "misdemeanors." How many times per season did Durant not shoot a half court shot just before time expired? How many realistically expected points did he cost his team?

On the other hand, someone who only makes passes that will lead to him getting credited with an assist and who barks at teammates who don't shoot right after he passes them the ball is potentially costing his team a lot in a lot of different ways; he is disrupting team chemistry, he is encouraging players to take bad shots instead of the best shot for the team, and this inevitably is going to have a large negative impact. Stephon Marbury, for instance, did such things a lot and in very noticeable ways. Other players are more subtle about such things, but the effects are just as pernicious.

So, yes, ideally from a standpoint of not caring about individual statistics I would like to have a team comprised of Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen, Jason Kidd: players with elite talent who don't care if they score two points or 20, and players who will not throw their teammates under the bus--but that combination of high level talent with unselfishness is very hard to find.

At Tuesday, June 11, 2019 10:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Kawhi Leonard is an intriguing mixture of Erving, Jordan, Pippen, Bryant and James, for the reasons that you mentioned. I am not sure that he is better than any of those players at the skill that each one did best--Erving's high flying scoring and rebounding, Jordan and Bryant's midrange versatility, Pippen's passing/ballhandling, James' combination of finesse and sheer power--but he may be at a higher level in each one than any of the others. I am not sure about that but it is possible.

That would not necessarily mean that he is the best player in the group, though. The value Jordan and Bryant provided as fourth quarter scoring killers may be more significant than being able to get 9 rpg instead of 6 or 7.

At Wednesday, June 12, 2019 2:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply re my comment on KD's holding the ball at the end of quarters. If he does it very infrequently, then it's pointless -- as it wouldn't significantly help his shooting percentage. (Also, regardless of frequency, any marginal decrease in shooting percentage might be partly offset by a marginal increase in PPG.) Actually, I think that he does it more frequently than one might think. I saw him do it in a (regular season) game this year, which is the only reason that I Googled it and found the article where he confesses to it. I'd argue that it can disrupt team chemistry -- though not as seriously as the Marbury-type examples that you cite. From a fan perspective, it also undermines the product -- though, again, not as seriously as DNPs for the sake of resting healthy players. It is sort of like an actor breaking character for a moment, which makes it impossible to suspend disbelief and enjoy an athletic team competition -- without thinking about the business/stat compilation that we all know exists, but distracts from the on-court action of a particular game.

And there's also a slippery-slope argument: in football, including at the NFL level, I've seen QBs throw the ball out-of-bounds in the last minute of the game, when they are trailing, rather than throw a desperation jump ball -- where it is quite clear that avoiding an interception (for their individual stats) has discouraged them from doing everything possible to try to win the game.

Maybe this is all a reflection of the modern game, where stats determine value in free agency.

As for KD, notwithstanding the above criticism, I watched him in pre-game shoot-around at Staples Center this year. His routine was amazing -- and showed the work ethic of a 12th man looking to stay on the team. So the injury is sad to see -- as he is a very valuable part of the NBA and sports world.

At Thursday, June 13, 2019 12:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I doubt that this play happens that frequently for any one particular player. Not every quarter ends with an opportunity to fling the ball from halfcourt and Durant would not have the ball every time that situation arose.

Let's say that during the course of a season Durant has 20 such opportunities and he holds the ball 10 times instead of shooting it. How many points did he cost his team? What is the expected field goal percentage on a half court shot? Maybe 10%? I have been at All-Star Weekend watching All-Stars have shooting contests from half court and even with no defense and no clock running they are not shooting a high percentage. So, if Durant held the ball 10 times and the expected percentage was 10% then he cost his team three points over the course of the season. I seriously doubt that team morale was affected by this, either.

You may think that the numbers/percentages should be higher, but it is difficult to imagine a realistic scenario in which this behavior is costing his team very many points. On principle, I think that he should shoot because it might go in, but statistically it does not matter much.

How much does this affect his field goal percentage? In one game, it could matter, because the difference between 9-18 and 9-17 is .500 versus .529 but over the course of an entire season this likely does not matter much. He attempted 1383 shots last season and shot .521 (721 field goals made). If he had attempted 10 more heaves and made 1 (to stick with the numbers from the hypothetical above), then he would have finished 722-1393 (.518). Granted, a player who shoots less often than Durant would have his field goal percentage affected more significantly by every miss. If you are a benchwarmer who hardly plays, a few missed halfcourt heaves could mess up your percentage.

I agree with you that Durant has a great work ethic and that he will be missed for however long he is out. I hope that he makes a speedy and full recovery. The Achilles tendon rupture is one of the worst injuries a basketball player can have; it has changed or just flat out ended many careers.


Post a Comment

<< Home