Spurs fans have a complicated relationship with Kawhi Leonard. He transformed himself from an unheralded prospect into a homegrown superstar in San Antonio during his seven-year stint with the franchise, eventually helping them capture their fifth championship. But everything changed when he accused the medical staff of mishandling a mysterious quadriceps injury, sat out of numerous games, and demanded a trade.
Leonard had his wish granted when the front office sent him to Toronto during the 2018 offseason. The Spurs slipped to the bottom of the NBA standings following his departure, and their diehard fanbase has never let him live down his misdeeds, heckling him whenever he returns to the 2-1-0. Gregg Popovich heard enough of all that taunting as he interrupted free throws to ask the Frost Bank Center audience to stop their booing.
Despite a stern-faced request from their long-time head coach, the Silver and Black faithful only ramped up their jeers, letting Leonard hear it every time he touched the ball. The arena came alive after Popovich returned to the sidelines, but their energy brought unintended consequences. Kawhi might seem robotic, but the 32-year-old forward raised his intensity and poured in the points for the Clippers once the crowd gave him an earful.
There is an age-old saying Sean Elliott loves to use on the local television broadcast: the same thing that made you laugh will make you cry. Tonight was a perfect example of how that adage rings true, as Leonard put forth a masterclass in scoring the rock. While the Spurs faithful added fuel to the fire for their former franchise cornerstone, they also awakened Victor Wembanyama from his slumber, helping San Antonio shrink the deficit.