After Game 1 of the Rockets–Spurs series in which the Rockets defeated the Spurs by nearly 30 points, it was less difficult to count the Spurs out from this series. However, the adjustments made my head coach Gregg Popovich were proof that you shouldn’t count the Spurs out just yet.
The biggest adjustment made was the decision to allow Kawhi Leonard defend James Harden early in the game. That was a switch from Danny Green defending Harden in Game 1, which clearly did not work due to Harden’s 20 points and 46.5 percent field goal percentage. But the tactic made Harden struggle offensively as he was guarded by one of the best defenders in the league. The potential MVP candidate ended the night with a sub-par 13 points on 3-17 in shooting. He was also 22 percent in three-point shooting. What’s even more impressive is that Leonard didn’t pick up any fouls while defending him.
As Harden’s offensive inefficiency waned throughout the game, Leonard’s was the exact opposite. His offense shined the entire game. He scored an impressive 34 points on 81.2 percent shooting and was 75 percent from deep. Additionally, his offensive performance was historic. His field goal percentage was the highest in Spurs playoff history by a player with at least 15 attempts. Leonard also had a career-high of eight assists.
Also, according to ESPN Stats and Info, James Harden had 2 turnovers and was 0-5 in shooting with Leonard as his main defender.
But, Kawhi Leonard’s offensive and defensive brilliance didn’t get the the credit it deserved. Of Kawhi Leonard’s defense, Popovich sarcastically said, “We put Kawhi on James because he’s a good defender and James is a great player. It’s no rocket science”.
Of his shortcomings, James Harden said, “I just missed shots. I missed shots. I didn’t convert my layups. We knew they were going to come out with aggressiveness in Game 2.
Whether or not James Harden or Gregg Popovich will admit it, having Kawhi Leonard be the primary defender of James Harden was the most important adjustment of the game. Leonard’s defense prevented Harden from becoming the key facilitator for the Rockets, which caught the team off-guard and led to their demise Wednesday night.
If Leonard can continue to defend Harden at an exceptional level, then the Rockets will be in trouble. Harden will have to find a way to be quicker and smarter than Leonard. However, the rest of the the Spurs will have to tighten up their defense for other players. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are both very lethal from the three-point line, and that was proved again last night as Anderson was 80 percent from deep.