NBA Playoffs 2017: Can We Get Kawhi Leonard Some Help, Please?

Apr 22, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 22, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite Kawhi Leonard’s greatest post season performance to date, the San Antonio Spurs dropped game four in Memphis, tying the series at 2-2.

Game four in Memphis was one of the greatest post season games in recent memory.

At the end of the third quarter, the Grizzlies led the Spurs, 74-71. In the fourth quarter, Leonard did everything humanly possible to help the Spurs leave Memphis with a win.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Leonard had 19 points. With 3:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, Leonard scored his 22nd point. By the end of regulation, Leonard had 35 points, including a stretch of 16 consecutive points to help send the game into over time.

Every time the Grizzlies took the lead, Leonard came right back and scored.

Beware of The Klaw.

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 23, 2017

Don’t let the 43 points distract you from the fact that Leonard was guarding Mike Conley on the other end of the floor, getting a steal that resulted in a 3-point play. How many other superstars in this league defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player?

That play tied the game up at 88-88 with 2:57 remaining. On the very next play, Leonard came down and hit one of his seven three-pointers, extending the lead to 91-88.

The Grizzlies, who were incredibly resilient down the stretch, scored four consecutive points, increasing the Grizzlies lead to 92-91, forcing Gregg Popovich to call a timeout. On the ensuing possession, Mills passes up an open look and dishes it to Leonard, who sinks another three.

With :43 seconds left in regulation, the Spurs had a two point lead. Marc Gasol was fouled on the following possession, hitting both of his free throws, tying the game at 94 with :32 seconds left.

Then, Leonard did this.

Kawhi scored 16 straight to end regulation tonight – the most consecutive points in a playoff game by a Spur in last 20 years.

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 23, 2017

If they were to blur the player and just show the shot, you would think that’s Kobe Bryant. Leonard hit a tough fadeaway jumper that was well defended, and buried it to give the Spurs the lead.

Unfortunately, Mike Conley hit his signature floater on the next possession, forcing over time. Leonard scored eight more points in overtime, but it was (Marc) Gasol’s mid-range shot on the final play of the game that decided this game. Spurs lose, 110-108.

Here is Leonard’s final stat sheet: In 44 minutes, Leonard scored 43 points on 14/30 shooting, along with eight rebounds, three assists, six steals, 7/10 from beyond the arc, and a perfect 8/8 from the charity stripe. Absolutely ridiculous.

Kawhi Leonard is the first player in NBA history to have 40+ points, 5+ three-pointers and 5+ steals in a playoff game.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 23, 2017

It’s an absolute travesty that Leonard put up that caliber of a performance, and left Memphis without a victory, forcing a crucial game five in San Antonio on Tuesday.

In my previous post, I posed the question: Should the Spurs be worried about their role players stepping up in game four? Most people, on both Facebook and Twitter, said that it was just one game, and the Spurs would bounce back in game four.

Let’s take a look at the numbers…

LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge, the secondary scoring option on the Spurs, has a had a pedestrian scoring performance in the first four games of this series.

In game four (41 minutes), Aldridge scored 13 points on 6/11 shooting, including two rebounds and one assist. For the series, Aldridge is averaging 15.0 points per game (lowest of career), 5.8 rebounds (lowest of career), and 0.8 blocks per game (lowest of career).

In last year’s playoffs playing alongside Tim Duncan, Aldridge was averaging 21.9 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks per game.

I thought LaMarcus was really good in the second half last night.

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 23, 2017

Some things don’t show up on the stat sheet, though. With Dewayne Dedmon out in game four, Aldridge was going to see a lot of time on Gasol, which is a difficult matchup for Aldridge. When he wasn’t guarding Gasol, he was guarding Zach Randolph, which is also a difficult matchup.

(Marc) Gasol scored 16 points on 5/12 shooting, and Randolph finished with 12 points on 4/12 shooting, so Aldridge’s defense was very strong, and has gone under the radar in the series.

Nevertheless, he hasn’t helped Leonard much offensively, and he was brought in to do just that. Hopefully, he can contribute in game five and help the Spurs get one step closer to victory.

Tony Parker

Parker, who was held scoreless in game three, bounced back with a great performance.

In game four, Parker scored 22 points on 9/19 shooting, along with five assists and four rebounds. For the series, Parker is averaging 13.8 points on 46.9% shooting in 25.5 minutes per game.

Aside from Kawhi and Parker, the rest of the Spurs core players are all scoring below their season averages through 4 playoff games.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 23, 2017

For your 35-year old point guard who is supposed to be the THIRD scoring option, those numbers are solid, especially when you consider he didn’t score a point in game three.

Anyone Else?

Outside of Leonard and Parker, only Aldridge scored in double figures with 13 points.

Danny Green, a sharpshooter who helped the Spurs win a championship in 2014, has been struggling to get his three point shot going. In game four, Green had five points on 2/9 shooting, including 0/6 from beyond the arc, Green’s strength.

We cannot forget the defensive job that Green does on Conley for a majority of the game, as Green is still an elite perimeter defender. However, most of his looks from downtown were open shots, and he hasn’t managed to hit any of them, which is really hurting the Spurs.

Since the second half of Game 2 to the ending of Game 4, the Grizzlies have outscored the Spurs 260-242.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 23, 2017

Pau Gasol, who was playing so good since returning from his injury, has struggled to get going here in the playoffs. In game four, he scored 8 points on 4/7 shooting, including 11 boards.

For the series, Gasol is averaging 7.5 points per game (career low) on 41.4% shooting (career low), along with 7.0 rebounds per game. Gasol was supposed to help stretch the floor for the Spurs, but instead, has been limited due to his liability on the defensive end.

Manu Ginobli, an X-factor in this series, was held scoreless again. Ginobli, in four games this series, has yet to score a basket, limiting his minutes on the floor.

Spurs' Playoff Net Rating by Quarters:

1Q: +14.22Q: +5.93Q: -4.34Q: +24.6

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 24, 2017

David Lee, who replaced Dedmon in the starting lineup, scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in his 33 minutes on the floor.

Patty Mills, the most consistent player off the bench, mustered up six points, four assists, and two rebounds in his 23 minutes of play in game four. Unfortunately, he was 1/4 from three-point range, which is easily one of Mills’ strengths.

How Worried Should the Spurs Be?

It depends.

For this particular series, the Spurs can squeak by without a great supporting cast. However, if they continue to struggle offensively, teams like the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors will make it impossible for the Spurs to stay in games.

Can you attribute the Spurs offensive struggles to the Grizzlies defense? Yes, partially. While the Spurs are working hard for their shots, a large majority of them are good shots that the Spurs have made all season, and chose a horrible time to go cold from long-range.

The Spurs shot 9/30 from three-point range, and Leonard made seven of them.

Take Kawhi out and the Spurs as a team shot 2/20 from 3PT range tonight (10%). Yikes.

Kawhi shot a casual 7/10 from three.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 23, 2017

If your team shoots 2/20 from three-point range, you can expect to lose a playoff game.

The ball movement has been stale all series, as the Spurs have 62 assists through four games, 14th out of the possible 16 teams in the playoffs. The Spurs assist percentage is 43.1%, ranking last among the 16 playoff teams.

This was one of the best passing teams in the NBA, and it’s a large reason why the Spurs won 61 games this season. If the ball moves, role players get easier shots, getting them going early.

Instead, the ball movement is stagnant, and players are forcing up tougher shots, which doesn’t bode very well for players who’s last name isn’t Leonard.

Can They Fix It?

Yes, they can.

Ultimately, these are professional NBA players, and eventually, the shots will fall. The question is, will players like Green and Mills get it going before it’s too late? That answer, I do not have.

Ball movement leads to assists, and assists lead to points. If the shots don’t fall, the assists don’t show up, and the ball movement looks worse than it actually is.

Don’t believe me? The Spurs have an offensive efficiency rating of 111.8, second behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, ranking ahead of the Rockets and the Warriors.

The Spurs have a net rating of 9.2, second behind the Warriors.

Kawhi Leonard's 43 points tonight ties the most by a Spur in a playoff game since George Gervin had 44 in 1980.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 23, 2017

Luckily, game five is at home, where the Spurs role players naturally play better. If they can earn a victory, all the pressure will shift to Memphis to win game six at home. If all goes as planned, the pressure will be too much for the Grizzlies, and the Spurs will win in six games, as predicted.

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However, the Spurs CANNOT expect Leonard to play out of his mind every game, and players like Parker, Aldridge, Gasol, Mills and Green should be ready to get going early in game five.

Tune in for game five tomorrow in San Antonio. Go Spurs Go.