(This article was originally published on Apr. 7, 2015)
Stephen Curry is an angel. We all know this. He doesn't play basketball as much as he descends from the heavens every other night to remind us how beautiful dribbling and shooting can be. He's as child-like as any athlete could be.
So, of course, Kawhi Leonard put him in a torture rack as the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
Leonard's genius is that he ruins everything that's cool. He even has a comically-evil nickname already: The Claw. The green aliens from the original Toy Story movie feared The Claw, which they viewed as an omnipresent deity. Sure, it was just the grabber in those toy machines that always seems to cheat you out of a stuffed animal, but it freaked them out. That's Leonard's nickname. He shares it with a device that was feared by cute, docile creatures who just wanted to enjoy life.
If you watched the game against the Warriors, you saw him first put Harrison Barnes in an existential crisis, holding him to four points. This is the same Harrison Barnes who carries himself like Kobe Bryant when he's locked in. Like old age and knee injuries, Leonard broke him down to the bare minimum. He deconstructed Harrison Barnes, the man who was awarded the inaugural Alvin Attles Community Impact Award for his efforts in helping youth in the Bay Area. I guess that means nothing to The Claw.
Then, as Curry was about to transcend the human plane of existence again, his flame was extinguished. Sith Lord Gregg Popovich switched Leonard onto him and it worked because even though Leonard is 6'7 and weighs 230 pounds, he's as agile as a point guard. More than that, he's as impossible to deal with as a "whatever you want" reply when you ask a friend what they want to eat.
Leonard is strong, quick and smart. He can blanket his man to the point that receiving the ball takes an incredible amount of energy. Once you get it, keeping it is just as difficult. He had seven steals against the Warriors, four against Curry. Curry isn't just any point guard. Stealing the ball from a player with his sort of handles is like solving a rubix cube. Leonard made the feat look incredibly ordinary.
He's known for being soft-spoken, but then again, so was Professor Moriarty. The pleasant, nice-boy image is just a facade that covers up his dastardly deeds. Remember how fun things were during the stretch from Dec. 10 to Jan. 14, when he was injured? Even the eternal winter cold couldn't put a damp on the festivities. People were nicer, gas prices went down and the Lakers weren't all the way dead yet. It was the best of times.
Now he's back, and not only is he wreaking havoc, but the Spurs themselves have risen like they always seem to do. Every goddamn year.
Since the All-Star break, Leonard's been averaging 18 points, on 52 percent shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, two and a half steals and one block per game. Over the last 21 games, those numbers are at 19 points, 53 percent from the field, 38 percent from three, seven rebounds, three steals and one blocks.
The Spurs have a defensive rating under 97 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor. It's super impressive if you overlook the fact that he hates fun. The good news is that he will be a restricted free agent this summer and a CBA stipulation requires that he gets locked up Hannibal-style in July.
There's no reason that athletes like him should exist in this current NBA era. You don't get to be a defensive mastermind while being that offensively talented. We let it slide with LeBron James because he was going bald at a young age and needed things to be happy about. Rajon Rondo used to be one of the best defenders in the league, but he had to sacrifice his jumper to get there.
Tony Allen and DeAndre Jordan accepted that trade-off too. Chris Paul defends well, but he also hits people in the groin and has an annoying fake twin brother, so he's practically immoral. Danny Green, Leonard's teammate, is an awesome perimeter defender, but looks like a walking meme.
Every great defender has to give up something. Every one except Kawhi Leonard
You may think that having braids in 2015 is Leonard's sacrifice, as if he gave up his sense of time, place and decency to become an athletic juggernaut. But it's actually the opposite. It's more of a warning sign to opponents of just how little he cares about everything. It's why he didn't hesitate to crush Steph so badly that it resembled the Simpsons scene where Krusty the Clown attacked the hamburglar.
"Stop, stop! He's already dead!" pic.twitter.com/9z7QmYRXol— SimpsonsQOTD (@SimpsonsQOTD) January 11, 2014
Hopefully we find out that Leonard's a Vegan or one of those people who goes hiking for fun. We need something to remind us that Leonard's actually flawed and not just an all-conquering hybrid wing who's only growing stronger with time.