With All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker watching from the sidelines in civilian attire, and Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson also unavailable, Spurs swingman Kawhi Leonard rose to the occasion lifting San Antonio to an impressive 103-89 victory over the Bulls in Chicago. The quiet Aztec sparked the Spurs with a career-high 26 points unleashing the offensive repertoire he first unveiled in Las Vegas during Summer League play. Amidst the array of post-ups and jab steps, Leonard played stellar defense limiting Bulls All-Star Luol Deng to 11 points on a 4-of-13 shooting night.
The win brought San Antonio to 3-1 on their annual rodeo road trip after solid wins against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Brooklyn Nets, and an early stumble verses the Pistons in Detroit. After the 111-86 blowout in Brooklyn forward Gerald Wallace offered up a prescient observation on the shorthanded Spurs.
“We should take a look at the guys in San Antonio, 1 through 15," Wallace told reporters after the game. “Everybody knows their role. It doesn't matter who they have on the court, their offense looks the same, their defense looks the same. We’ve got to get that mentality, regardless of who’s on the court for us, our offense and defense has got to look the same for all four quarters. We have to stay together as a team instead of pulling apart.”
At 41-12 the Spurs sit atop the NBA standings boasting the best record in the league, a remarkable accomplishment considering most pundits conceded the Western Conference to the Lakers and Thunder before the season tipped off. Next up for San Antonio is a Wednesday night visit to Cleveland to face-off against the Cavaliers and the dynamic Kyrie Irving, before heading into the All-Star break.
Kawhi Leonard will showcase his complete game on Friday Night in Houston during the Rising Stars Challenge as part of Team Chuck along with fellow phenoms Anthony Davis and Ricky Rubio. The silver and black will be well represented on All-Star Saturday Night when Tony Parker defends his title in the Skills Challenge and Matt Bonner laces them up for the Three Point Contest. Former Spur Robert Horry will represent the West as part of the Shooting Stars competition.
Parker and Duncan will team up at the All-Star Game on Sunday, but with Coach Pop coaching the West and the duo nursing nagging injuries don’t expect long stretches of playing time for these Spurs. Looking at limited minutes on a stacked Western Conference squad Tony and Timmy can at least enjoy Alicia Keys performing at halftime. — M. Solis