Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Kawhi Leonard, Chapter 3

The 3-0 San Antonio Spurs, the only remaining undefeated team in the Western Conference, travel to Los Angeles to play Kawhi Leonard and the 3-2 Clippers. This is San Antonio’s first road game, while the Clippers have won both of their home games in this young season.

After sitting out due to load management on the first night of the Clippers back-to-back, Leonard will be locked and loaded to take one of his former teams. While no truly meaningful basketball takes place in October, this contest could serve as a statement game of sorts for both teams. If the Spurs win, they prove their undefeated record isn’t a fluke. If the Clippers win, they take a step toward proving they’re ready to reign over the rest of the West.

Spurs vs. Kawhi Leonard – What Will Happen in Chapter 3

Chapter 1 was Leonard’s return to San Antonio — and that will go down as one of the most memorable regular season games in Spurs history. Spurs fans were hurt and they let their voices and boos be heard. Chapter 2 was DeMar DeRozan’s return to Toronto. That was an emotional game for the team in its own right. 

Chapter 3 probably won’t have anywhere near the animosity or the emotion of the first two chapters. Maybe some of that emotion will return the next time Leonard plays in San Antonio, but I can’t imagine the Spurs are viewing this game in Los Angeles as anything more than a chance to show they can hang on the road against the top tier teams in the West. That alone should have the Spurs adequately fired up.

As for how the game will play out, oddsmakers have the Clippers favored by 4.5 points and winning by an approximate score of 116-112. San Antonio has been a sub par road team the last two seasons, so getting this win could do wonders for their confidence. If they can find a formula to slow Leonard down on offense and shoot well from three-point territory on the other end, the good guys have a legitimate shot to get this game. 

The Spurs Were Right About Kawhi Leonard’s Injury

Lost in the chuckles after it was announced that Leonard would miss Wednesday night’s game against the Utah Jazz so his load could be managed was the fact that the Spurs’ medical staff has been proven right. San Antonio diagnosed Leonard with quadriceps tendinopathy, a degenerative condition that can be managed but not cured. Leonard and his team shopped around until they received a different diagnosis, one that claimed his quad could be cured with enough rest and rehab. Considering Leonard is still managing the same injury two years later, it’s safe to say that the Spurs doctors were right and he’ll need to manage it for the rest of his career.

Obviously, that’s a small win that doesn’t amount to much. But add that to the vindication the front office felt after Leonard left the Raptors even after Toronto won a championship and met all of his team’s demands along the way, and it’s more clear than ever that the Spurs simply couldn’t have done anything to keep Leonard in San Antonio. He wanted to go back to Los Angeles and it was bound to happen no matter what anyone did.

What to Expect From Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers This Season

I think Leonard and the Clippers are the clear favorites to win the championship. Assuming Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries healthy, it looks like they have the pieces to make a strong run in the postseason. They have a quality coach, a strong bench and versatile defenders — oh, and two of the top players in the game.

What makes the Clippers even scarier on this Halloween night and moving forward is the fact that Leonard appears to have turned his one weakness into yet another strength. In the past, Leonard’s passing ability and court vision were mediocre at best. This year, the 28-year-old is averaging 7.5 assists per game and set career-highs in assists twice in a span of three days. If he adds passing expertise to his repertoire, Leonard is going to be even more difficult to contain.

Will Dejounte Murray Play Tonight Against the Clippers?

After Dejounte Murray suffered a torn ACL last season, the Spurs are carefully managing his return this season. Not only do they have Murray on a minutes restriction, Gregg Popovich further revealed that the young point guard won’t be participating in back-to-backs for the time being. Considering the Spurs play tomorrow against the Golden State Warriors, Murray will need to either sit tonight or tomorrow night. 

(One of the most ridiculous narratives about why Leonard left San Antonio was that the Spurs weren’t willing to manage his injury so he had to go. Considering Pop invented load management and this franchise has a long history of carefully managing injuries, that argument never made any sense.)

If there was any internal debate about which game Murray should skip, that probably ended after Stephen Curry broke his hand. Now it’s clear that Murray should play against the Clippers and then sit against the short-handed Warriors, who were already struggled mightily before Curry even got hurt.

Spurs vs. Clippers – Matchups to Watch

Last season, Pop used small players to defend Kawhi Leonard (mostly Derrick White and Patty Mills) and then sent soft double-teams whenever he dribbled. It worked well so I expect to see it continue tonight, which would mean Murray will be the main defender against Leonard to start off the game and White will be the main defender off the bench. Other than those two, DeRozan could see some time on Leonard and it’s possible that Pop could dust off DeMarre Carroll and sic him on the Clippers superstar.

L.A. has a lot of perimeter shooting bigs, so expect Trey Lyles to get to the start again next to LaMarcus Aldridge up front. I don’t believe we’ll see much of Jakob Poeltl paired with Aldridge tonight due to matchups.

The biggest advantage the Spurs will have on offense is Aldridge in the post. The Clippers have been shaky defending the low block so San Antonio should look to feed Aldridge early and often. The Spurs should also focus on getting out and running, as it will be easier to score in transition than against a set Clippers defense.

With Murray’s intermittent struggles with turnovers so far this season, he needs to be cautious of Patrick Beverley but can’t be timid. Beverley is a bulldog defender but Murray has a speed and quickness advantage.

On the defensive end of the court, Poeltl will need to be active and physical to keep Montrezl Harrell from erupting. But even more urgent is the need to contain bench scorer extraordinaire Lou Williams. If White is busy defending Leonard, someone else will need to check Williams. Considering the two other perimeter players off the bench for the Spurs are Mills and Marco Belinelli, that will likely be a weakness the Clippers will look to exploit.

Overall, this will be a really interesting matchup between two deep teams. If the Spurs are to be a surprise team in the West, they need to prove they can put up a respectable fight in road games like this one where both teams are motivated to make a statement.