How will the Spurs stop the Thunder’s Kevin Durant? They’ll turn to Kawhi Leonard.


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The San Antonio Spurs will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in a replay of the 2012 Western Conference finals.

Kevin Durant, the reigning MVP, was strong in that series, averaging 29.5 points, 7.5 rebounds,  5.3 assists,  1.7 steals and 1.5 blocked shots per game. He has been even better this time around, with 31.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the playoffs. So who on the Spurs can stop him?

The best option is San Antonio small forward Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs allowed 99.7 points per 100 possessions when Leonard was on the floor during the regular season, 105.1 when he was not. During the playoffs, they have allowed 101.2 and 111.9, respectively. As a frame of reference, the Thunder has the sixth-best defense in the playoffs (106.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) while the Spurs are fourth (105).

In their head-to-head matchups during the regular season, Durant was less of a scoring threat when Leonard was on the court, especially in second-chance points: Durant had eight in four games with Leonard on the bench or not playing and zero with Leonard on the court (three games).

Leonard isn’t just a defensive stalwart — he provides offense. He is averaging 14 points, 7.5 rebounds and nearly two steals (1.8) per game plus is shooting 52.5 percent from the field.


Plus, as he showed in the series against Portland, he can create points off the break.

“He’s becoming more and more important to us,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said of Leonard in late April. “He’s done a lot of great things for us to make us a consistent team.”

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.

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Neil Greenberg · May 16, 2014

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