It might be blasphemous to say, but Kawhi Leonard did a pretty good Michael Jordan impersonation on Friday night.
Playing in the United Center, Leonard torched the Chicago Bulls for 33 points on 14-21 shooting, leading the Clippers to an easy 125-106 victory. What made the performance so Jordan-esque was the way in which he got those 33 points.
Leonard struggled from the three-point line, going just 1-6 from the promised land, but it didn’t matter, as he hit a ridiculous 13 of his 15 two-point attempts. He put on an absurd display of tough shot-making that had the Bulls at a loss in terms of defensive scheming. The Clippers would seek out switches for Leonard, getting him matched up on small defenders like Coby White, and let him cook in the midrange. His 15-footer was falling with complete accuracy, as the only two shots he missed inside the arc were at the basket (Leonard was sure was fouled on both misses). He hit three midrange jump shots from the exact same spot on the right block, and he made sure to hit a few shots from the elbow just to make his shot chart look a bit more symmetrical. He was unguardable, at least by anyone on the lowly 10-15 Bulls.
When asked after the game about what opposing teams can try to do to stop Leonard when his midrange game is at its apex, Clippers Center Ivica Zubac was frank.
It’s an astute observation, highlighting another similarity between many of the all-time greats. Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady etc. were all able to make extremely difficult shots look like warm-up jumpers that they were taking in an empty gym. Their high point of release and the speed with which they can get their shot up make a defensive effort virtually pointless, and Leonard has reached this level of offensive brilliance.
Obviously, it would be nice to get a few extra points out of some of those jumpers (i.e. making more of his threes), and he will in future games, as he’s shooting an impressively efficient 40% from three this season. But on nights where the long ball isn’t falling, Leonard can always go back to the block and earn his points the old-fashioned way, deadeyeing defenders like MJ once did.