Leonard rules on Kings' court

Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (right) steals the ball from Sacramento guard Ben McLemore during the third quarter of their NBA clash. The forward finished with five steals, and had a team-high 30 points in San Antonio's 102-94 victory at Golden 1 Centre.
Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (right) steals the ball from Sacramento guard Ben McLemore during the third quarter of their NBA clash. The forward finished with five steals, and had a team-high 30 points in San Antonio's 102-94 victory at Golden 1 Centre.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

San Antonio star makes an impression on both ends of the floor to lead Spurs to victory

SACRAMENTO (California) • After five National Basketball Association championships and 1,091 regular-season victories, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich does not get impressed too easily. Neither is he big on superlatives.

However, after watching Kawhi Leonard sway a contest in his team's favour for the second consecutive game, the future Hall of Fame coach could not help himself.

"He's ridiculous," Popovich said after Leonard sparked the Spurs to a 102-94 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday, spoiling the regular-season opening of the Kings' new Golden 1 Center. "The stuff he does, it changes games."

Leonard scored 30 points and showed the Kings during one 100-second stretch that, the more things may be changing for them, the more San Antonio's success against them would stay the same.

He stole the ball three times over four Sacramento possessions, turning one of them into his own lay-up, another into two free throws, and the third into a lay-up for team-mate Dewayne Dedmon.

On successive possessions, he swiped the ball straight out of the hands of Sacramento guard Ben McLemore. That flurry highlighted a 24-5 run for San Antonio that bridged the third and fourth quarters and led to their seventh consecutive victory against Sacramento.

  • 5
    Steals Kawhi Leonard made against Sacramento.

    6
    Points (two lay-ups and two free throws) converted from the three steals he made in 100 seconds in the third quarter.

"He just grabbed it and took it twice in a row," Popovich said. "You don't see too many people doing that."

"He took over on defence," Dedmon added. "He's the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. That's what he does."

Leonard is starring on offence too. He scored 35 points and made all 15 of his free throws in San Antonio's season-opening, 129-100 rout of the two-time defending Western Conference champions Golden State Warriors.

His 65 points in the Spurs' first two games have come on 21-of-42 shooting.

What the Kings have done mostly over the past decade is lose. But a 113-94 road rout of the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday and the opening of their sparkling 17,500-seat arena seems to have changed the outlook.

They led for most of three quarters and responded to San Antonio's game-changing run by using a 12-2 surge to momentarily tie the contest 83-83 in the final quarter. In the end, the Kings failed in their bid to open the season with consecutive victories for the first time since 2003.

Still, they seemed much improved from the 33-49 squad a season ago that missed the play-offs for the 10th consecutive year.

Centre DeMarcus Cousins scored 37 points and pulled 16 rebounds. Forward Rudy Gay added 17 points, and McLemore added 10 off the bench for the Kings.

"It's early in the season, and it was a great team," Gay said. "It was a good test for us. We just need to stick with it."

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Leonard rules on Kings' court'. Print Edition | Subscribe