What You DON'T Know About The LeBron & Kawhi NBA Rivalry (Ft. Defense, No Emotion & Insults)
LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have an NBA rivalry deeper than just the Lakers and Clippers, but here’s what you don’t know. #NBA #Lebron #Kawhi
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If you look at the head to head matchups, Kawhi actually leads 15-8 although LeBron pretty much dominates the stat categories. This year, LeBron and Kawhi are both in LA on championship favorite teams, but this rivalry started way before, almost 7 years ago so I wanted to take a look at it. Drop a like for Kawhi smiling, a good 6219.
Around the same time just two weeks ago, LeBron made his comments about load management, stating that Why wouldn’t I play if I’m healthy? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” “My obligation is to play for my teammates. If I’m healthy, then I’m going to play. If coach sits me out, then I’m not healthy. It’s just that simple.” It’s kinda funny since this was also LeBron a few years ago.
Doc Rivers, the Clippers head coach, responded saying the Lakers' load-management philosophy "is whatever LeBron says it is," and then went one step further, sorta accusing LeBron of trying to attack Kawhi, saying. "Everybody has a reason for saying whatever they say." All this already gives off the vibes that there’s something between LeBron and Kawhi. Let’s not forget Kawhi’s New Balance commercial that takes shots at LeBron, when he mocked him with the crown keychain, which was part of the whole LeBron isn’t the King anymore thing. The commercial is literally called “Reign over LA”.
So let’s look back before this season. Really in 2013 was when Kawhi and LeBron faced off. Again, Kawhi wasn’t a superstar or anything and LeBron was the MVP of the league. This was the third straight finals for the Heat. Remember, this is only Kawhi’s second year in the league. He’s 21 years old and his primary defensive assignment is LeBron. And LeBron started off..badly. In the first 3 games of the finals, LeBron didn’t even break 20 points in any of the games. Three games into the finals, Leonard has held LeBron to 16.7 points on 38.9 percent shooting from the floor and a 23.1 percent clip from three. LeBron himself has some more stakes on these finals. When LeBron made the finals in 2007, he got swept by the Spurs. And while his team was trash, Bron admitted that he let the Spurs dictate the way he played and settled for jump shots instead of driving to the paint. So this finals was also meant to show how far he had come. But to see LeBron struggling after possibly his best seasons created a lot of headlines involving Kawhi being a possible LeBron stopper.
LeBron would find his way and play well in the next 4 games. He would then average 31.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 6.8 rebounds. Kawhi would miss a crucial free throw in Game 6 which eventually led to one of the clutchest shots ever. Kawhi’s start was always linked with LeBron which was further solidified in the 2014 NBA Finals.
The 2014 NBA Finals is the Spurs redemption story and the emergence of Kawhi as a star. Although Kawhi still hadn’t really taken the mantle offensively in the 2013-14 season, averaging only 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, the finals would be where we saw Kawhi shine offensively in the last 3 games, averaging 23.8 points and 68.6% from the field. In these finals, LeBron was as efficient as ever, averaging 28.2 points on 57% from the field and 52% from 3, but he only averaged 4 assists and 3.8 turnovers a game. Kawhi was instrumental in getting LeBron to give the ball up more. Only 17% of LeBron’s touches when guarded by Kawhi led to shot attempts which is way less than the 35% against all other defenders.
What I find really interesting is that LeBron never gave Kawhi the proper respect he deserved for guarding him in the Finals. Part of LeBron may think that it’s really Popovich and his schemes that annoyed him in the finals, not Kawhi’s individual greatness, even if Kawhi is a 2 time defensive player of the year. (Oh come on man). Oh and if you were doubting Kawhi’s actual defense. This is a graphic of Kawhi’s defense on LeBron versus other Spurs players. LeBron touches the ball less, shoots less, and drives less against Kawhi.
Kawhi also paralleled LeBron by going to the East and leading a team to the finals and eventually a championship. So essentially what this comes down to is competitive play and legacies that are linked. There is respect between the two, but because Kawhi was called the LeBron stopper and a legitimate one at that, the two were meant to be rivals. From the moment they met in the 2013 NBA Finals, they have acted as rivals. But what do you think? Who’s winning the ship this year?