December 10, 2023

What we learned from Kawhi Leonard’s first game back

The Klaw returned, but the Spurs left their defense back home in San Antonio

Game #28 saw the Spurs take on a Mavericks team, who despite being stuck in the NBA cellar of mediocre franchises, has played the Silver and Black closely this season. However, the longtime rivalry between the two teams was likely the last thing on Spurs fans’ minds Tuesday night, as Kawhi Leonard made his triumphant return to the lineup. The former MVP candidate was on a minute restriction, but he seemed to hit the ground running after an impressive 16 minute stint on the floor. More on this in a minute.

Despite the return of the franchise player, San Antonio came out slow and lackadaisical, and the Mavericks backcourt made them pay. They were flat-footed defensively, had poor movement on offense, and looked flat out lost at times. The one positive here is that this team can use this as a learning opportunity. A championship team’s effort and physicality should never be questioned. Luckily with a prime time showdown with the Rockets slated for Friday night, they’ll have a chance to quickly redeem themselves. Here are some takeaways from what turned out to be a disappointing night of basketball.

  • First of all, it was beyond nice seeing #2 in a jersey instead of a blazer.

There’s no question that Spurs nation let out a huge sigh of relief after watching Leonard dominate in his first taste of action this season. His jumper was fluid, and his movement on the floor put many of my concerns coming into the game to rest (NOTE: I could be wrong, but it looked to me like the training staff took him to the locker room early as a precaution). Though with that said, the team’s lack of ball movement and reliance upon his isolations were rather apparent in his return. It was a small sample size, so there’s no reason to start prepping the doomsday shelter; but there’s definitely some schematic issues that the Spurs will have to overcome before they reach their ceiling.

  • Joffrey Lauvergne had difficulty with his spacing and timing defensively. The pick and roll maestro had limited playing time in the game, but in this system it’s always important to see first year players gradually improve as the season progresses. These short stints of court time are pivotal for his development. Joffrey may not be logging minutes come playoff time, but that doesn’t mean he is completely out of PATFO’s plans.
  • Pau Gasol lacked his normal aggression on the offensive end of the floor. Despite a matchup that he has dominated at every turn this season, Pau was non existent against the Mavericks. The future hall of famer’s game was really indicative of the entire teams performance tonight. One of the things that stood out most about his 22 minutes of court time, was the lack of post up opportunities he had despite the vast amount of small ball that Rick Carlisle’s team played. It was just a bizarre night for #16.
  • Danny Green had a very forgettable night in Dallas as well. Despite a chase down block early in the third quarter and a missed layup on a drive midway through the fourth, I honestly don’t remember Danny being on the floor tonight. For as well as #14 has played this season, he couldn’t make a difference on a night that his team severely needed a spark. As always, the Tarheel sharpshooter has proved his resilience time and time again, so I fully expect a bounce back performance on Friday.
  • Rudy Gay was a rare bright spot against the Mavs. Rudy exploited his mismatches in the Maverick front court, as he drove right past a set of flat footed bigs on multiple possessions. That aggression was desperately needed on a night that the good guys struggled to score the basketball. I also thought his rotations defensively were the best I’ve seen this season. His positioning in his own end has continued to improve, and it is a great sign to see him buy in. Overall, he might have played his best game of the season Tuesday night.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge had his issues scoring, as the 32 year old all-star missed from point blank range on multiple occasions. What was an important takeaway from that though, was the fact that it did not detract from his demeanor. LMA remained aggressive even though this was a tough game for the big man as the officials were quick to swallow their whistles in what was a very physical matchup. These games are going to happen throughout the course of an 82 game season and it is important for LaMarcus to continue to look for his shot.
  • Tony Parker and Patty Mills were very pedestrian against the Mavericks backcourt. The duo combined for 14 points on 6-17 shooting, but more importantly, they lacked the ability to quarterback the offense that looked lost in certain stretches. No matter the opponent, you will not win many ball games with that kind of production from the point guards.
  • Bryn Forbes deserves some love after providing an offensive spark against the Spurs’ long time division rival. The box score is a bit misleading as he was forced to put up some desperation heaves late in the game, but I thought he did a great job of moving without the ball, and attacking the Mavs off the dribble. #11 also hung in there defensively despite some tough matchups for the undersized two guard.

Source: Pounding The Rock


Leave a Reply