Sometimes it's fun to note how much work can go into making something simple happen. Case in point: This sweet alley-oop hookup between Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard early in the second quarter of Wednesday's Game 2 between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.
As the ball crosses half-court, Parker fires a pass to guard Gary Neal on the right wing. Meanwhile, Danny Green runs to the paint on the right side of the floor and runs defender Metta World Peace into teammate Antawn Jamison. Green then sprints up to set a high screen for Neal, who dribbles left and passes to Leonard above the break on the left wing, as Parker circles from above the arc on the right side down along the baseline to the left corner to receive a feed from Leonard. Tim Duncan, who began the play by setting a soft high pick for Parker before retreating to the left block, takes a slight step forward to set up directly behind Jamison, who has no idea he's there.
Leonard makes a quick cut to the middle of the floor, which has been cleaned, paved and swept by the attention demanded by Parker and Duncan on the strong side and the action of Neal and Green on the weak side. Parker lofts the lob, Jamison tries to step around Duncan but is about an eon late to recover, World Peace is two steps slow to rotate to the cutter and Leonard's got a loud, stylish slam set up by about eight precise movements unfolding in the span of nine seconds (and, of course, some ball-watching Lakers defense). Tic, tac, toe.
Leonard wasn't the star for the Spurs on Wednesday night — the honors there go to Tony Parker, who scored a game-high 28 points and dropped seven assists without a turnover in 36 1/2 minutes in San Antonio's 102-91 win. The key point from a forward-looking perspective: Parker got loose for 24 of his 28 in the second half on 8 for 14 shooting and 7 for 8 from the line, suggesting he's working his way back into paint-penetrating form after late-season injuries and some sluggish play.
But when Parker was fighting through another slow start, Leonard provided some needed offensive punch, leading all scorers with 14 first-half points on 7 for 10 shooting, helping San Antonio keep pace with (and, eventually, outpace) a Lakers team that had bounced back from its awful Game 1 shooting (5 for 13 from 3-point range at intermission after going 3 for 15 for the full game on Sunday) and gotten a big first half from Pau Gasol (10 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one block). The second-year pro's ability to take advantage of the Lakers' lacking defense by getting to the rim — on the lob, from the post and in transition — helped San Antonio stay afloat until Parker took over with 15 points in the third quarter and nine in the fourth, when the Spurs' lead got as high as 17 before L.A. made the final margin a bit more respectable.
Leonard only scored two more points after halftime, but finished with a team-high seven rebounds in a game-high 39-plus minutes in the win and used his length, range, quickness and defensive instincts to both offer help against the Lakers' big frontcourt and harass a number of L.A. perimeter players, including World Peace, the clearly hobbled Nash and Steve Blake, who left late in Game 2 with a strained right hamstring and whose status for Game 3 remains unclear. When his teammates have had the offensive reins, Leonard's been a defensive presence; when they haven't, he's provided some pressure relief and easy buckets.
Leonard's a +17 in 75 postseason minutes through two games, and +50 through 454 playoff minutes over his brief two-year career, and it's likely that his level of contribution will only increase as he grows into his talents and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich continues to find opportunities to exploit the matchup problems the 6-foot-7 swingman can create, as CBSSports.com's Zach Harper writes:
Leonard isn't someone you're going to call plays for and have him isolate against Metta World Peace to get buckets (although he has become quite the playmaker in his first two seasons). He's someone that waits for World Peace to drift toward the action. That's when Kawhi pounces by cutting to the hoop and catching the pass with his hands that resemble catcher's mitts. He sneaks behind or through the defense and is a quick jumper that finishes around Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol with relative ease. [...]
Whether he has the advantage or the disadvantage in each of his upcoming matchups, he'll just be the quiet role player that continues to make a name for himself. He isn't on the level of Duncan, Parker or Ginobili, but he's just as important in the Spurs' scheme as any of those guys.
And, in his own quiet way, as integral as anyone to a 2-0 series lead that looks awful daunting, even with the scene shifting to Staples Center for Games 3 and 4.
Video via our friends at the NBA.