Kawhi Leonard gave the Denver Nuggets the finger – and proved just why he’s the best player in the NBA.
Leonard, the LA Clippers' big superstar, blocked a dunk attempt at the basket with his middle finger at the end of a 113-107 win on Monday night.
And the Clippers, who rallied behind their quiet leader, now lead their best of seven Western Conference semifinal series 2-1.
Leonard scored 23 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out six assists in the win.
But it was his late-game block on Denver’s Jamal Murray that had everybody talking.
NBA Analyst Reggie Miller, a former star for the Indiana Pacers who was commentating on the game, said: “Spectacular… Did you see that? He blocked it with his middle finger!”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers had called on his team to turn up the intensity on defence, and Leonard did just that with a highlight reel play.
Team-mate Paul George, who had 32 points, joked: “That's an extra long middle finger. Like, it kept growing or something. That's Kawhi, man. Big-time player.”
While Leonard is a smooth shooter and at times looks unplayable at the offensive end of the court, it’s plays like that which set him apart.
Remember the way he rose up and plucked the ball out of 7’4” Boban Marjanovic’s hands in LA’s series win over the Dallas Mavericks like he was taking candy from a baby?
He makes those plays look easy. And there is no-one else out there as locked in and deadly at both ends of the floor as he is right now.
Yes, the once defensively-challenged James Harden came up with a series-winning block for the Houston Rockets against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And yes, we will undoubtedly see a trademark chase-down block from LeBron James of the LA Lakers at some point during these play-offs.
But nobody is such a consistent force at both facets of the game as Leonard, a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and two-time NBA Finals MVP.
In last year’s play-offs, he scored 732 points to lead the Toronto Raptors to the championship.
Only James and Michael Jordan, the greatest of all time, had ever scored more in a single post-season.
In his first play-off series as a Clipper, Leonard scored 32 or more points in five consecutive games to send the Mavericks home early.
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But they say defence wins championships. And it’s on that end that Leonard has come good against the Nuggets – and where he has the edge over the game’s other stars.
The 29-year-old is only averaging 25 points per game against Denver and is shooting just 25% from three-point range.
But he is still their go-to guy when it comes to hitting the big shot in the clutch, and has turned up the intensity at the defensive end.
Clippers guard Patrick Beverley said: “I know he made some big plays offensively. But his energy, defensively, that’s what I thought I was most impressed with. The defensive side.”
If the Clippers go all the way – it’s plays like Kawhi’s one-finger block they will look back on as the ones that got them over the top.
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