It’s nice to know in 2017 that as human beings, we’re still capable of all experiencing the exact same feeling while watching the same thing at the same time. On Saturday, that feeling was euphoria and that thing was Kawhi Leonard, unless, that is, you’re a Grizzlies diehard. If you are, spoiler alert—you won Saturday’s game in overtime after Marc Gasol hit a runner in the lane, and the series is now tied 2–2, which is suddenly incredible news for anyone who loves basketball.
It goes without saying that Kawhi Anthony Leonard will take that for data. The San Antonio Spurs were losing 88–80 with 4:06 left and gritting and grinding like it was 2012 again in an arena full of waving, kind of ugly mustard-yellow towels. Then Kawhi took off his invisibility cloak and gobbled a Mike Conley pass out of nowhere. Then he got the ball back on the right wing and hit a three-pointer. And thus began the sequence that gave us the most exhilarating game of the 2017 playoffs to date.
Now, this isn’t an altogether unconventional thing to see happen during a Spurs game. On the next play, after an offensive foul on Vince Carter, Leonard coaxed a Grizzlies switch, took Gasol off the dribble and went to the line, where he made two free throws.
That’s also not that weird, because Leonard has made 46 consecutive free throws in a row, dating back to a regular-season game against the Clippers April 8.
By now, we’re so used to seeing this from Leonard, a player so defensively dominant that opposing teams go out of their way to keep him out of plays, even at their own expense. We’re so used to it that this didn’t feel special at all until Leonard stripped James Ennis off the dribble on the next possession, took it coast to coast and finished through contact. He made the free throw, and tied the game at 88.
If you aren’t yet drowning in gravitas, we all watched a 58-second run in which Leonard scored eight points, stole the ball twice and changed the entire personality of the basketball game. The hilarious, frightening part about all of this is that he didn’t stop.
On the next Spurs possession, he gently finessed around a screen and drained a go-ahead three.
While all this was happening, the Grizzlies were playing pretty good basketball. Let’s give some credit. Mike Conley had 35 points, eight assists and nine rebounds in the game, Gasol and Zach Randolph had double-doubles and the Grindfather himself, Tony Allen (who would have been marking Leonard the entire time, for what that’s worth), remained out with injury. Memphis stayed composed and inched out a one-point lead.
For the Grizzlies, I imagine this entire sequence was like one of those unintelligible nightmares where a faceless person is sprinting after you down a poorly-lit pathway. It didn’t matter where you were during these four minutes of basketball, because you knew Kawhi was coming. He is inevitable. He’s the boogeyman.
Anyone and everyone who had seen the last few minutes of this game knew that this shot was going in too.
If you missed the part at the top about the Grizzlies winning (yep, it’s up there), Conley then answered to force overtime. That’s where that part of the story ends, because he airballed to end the fourth and slightly dim the moment, which capped Leonard’s run of 16-straight fourth quarter points. In those final four minutes, he shot 5-7 from the field, was 3-3 from three, 3-3 from the line, grabbed one rebound (which was his own miss, leading to free throws) and stole the ball twice (both times leading directly to his own baskets).
Over those last four minutes and overtime combined, he outscored the Grizzlies 24-22 by himself. Leonard finished with 43 points, eight rebounds and six steals, among other things. This was a transcendent moment from an increasingly transcendent player in midst of a series that’s suddenly become required viewing. And of course, then Gasol won it in overtime for Memphis.
Who’s ready for Game 5?