Let’s have some fun with arbitrary statistical measures. Tuesday’s NBA playoffs slate provided some superbly efficient scoring nights, with Kevin Love scoring 27 points on seven shots, and Kawhi Leonard tallying 37 on just 14 attempts. Not many players have had nights like this over the past 33 or so years.
The Kawhi Strategy
“Strategy is not really something I’m gonna talk to you about,” Gregg Popovich said during his post–Game 2 press conference. Spurs PR then asked if anyone had further questions. Pop said, with a chuckle, “That was mean.” So was Kawhi, with this dunk serving as an exclamation point for San Antonio’s commanding 96–82 win over the plucky Grizzlies.
Leonard’s thunderous dunk was the stake to the Grizzlies’ heart. In the box score it went down as his 14th field goal attempt, and his 36th and 37th points. It made him only the 16th player (Reggie Miller did it twice) since 1983–84 to meet that threshold (37 on 14 shots), in the regular season or the playoffs, per Basketball-Reference.
Obviously, with so few shots from the field, Leonard would need to get to the free throw line quite a lot, which he did. Leonard shot a perfect 19-for-19 from the line, which entering the night had been done only nine times since 1983. The mighty Dirk Nowitzki had the most makes, shooting 24-of-24 in a historic 48-points-on-15-shots night. Maybe someday Kawhi will have one of those.
The Grizz have been unable to make up for the Leonard strategy offensively. Memphis has scored 82 points in each game of the series. Should we be surprised? Per Synergy, the Grizzlies had the third-worst effective field goal percentage and the 21st-ranked half-court offensive rating, while the Spurs had the best defensive rating — again, largely thanks to Kawhi. Basketball is a two-way game. Leonard is elite on both ends. Does that make him the best player in the NBA behind LeBron James?
A Love Supremely Efficient
Earlier in the night, the Cavaliers beat the Pacers 117–111. Again, it didn’t feel that close. Toward the end of the game, my friend Shea Serrano tweeted this:
WTF lol, indeed. That seemed like a rare occurrence, so I looked it up in the good ol’ Basketball-Reference database. It’s even more uncommon than Kawhi’s night. Since 1983–84, which is as far back as their database goes for game logs, only four players have scored at least 27 on seven or fewer shots: Adrian Dantley, John Stockton, Chauncey Billups, and Gordon Hayward. First of all, the presence of three Jazz players on that list is weird. Second of all, Love was the first player to do it in the playoffs, which makes it extra special.
Love is the third wheel in Cleveland’s offense, but when he hovers around the arc, he becomes the gravitational pull that helps make Cleveland unstoppable. He was 3-of-4 from 3, but he can do more than that. Let’s not forget that in Minnesota, Love was a force of nature on the block. The Cavs still use him down in the paint, especially if small fries like Lance Stephenson are defending him:
Big Love is so rude to Little Lance. Please note these were four consecutive possessions. Love buries Lance underneath the rim three times in a row, drawing two fouls and hitting a jump hook — Lance even threw a tantrum because he was so frustrated. On the final play in the sequence, Love flies by Lance for a tip-in. Eight points in 91 seconds. Stephenson is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, but Love is bigger and stronger — 6-foot-10, 251 pounds. The Pacers took a risk putting a middleweight on a heavyweight, and it didn’t work out. When Nate McMillan had enough of the Lance-Love matchup, Kevin Seraphin drew the short stick:
The nice thing for the Cavs is they have enough weapons to coast through the opening round. Their defense is still bad, but Indiana’s is way, way worse. For now, the Cavs’ elite offense is more than enough.