After cruising to a double-digit victory at home in Game 1, Kawhi Leonard and company needed a stop at the end of Game 2. With a four second difference in the shot clock, one stop would have meant getting the ball back in a one-possession game with a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
They didn't get the stop and instead went down by five points, an insurmountable lead with so little time left on the clock. As a result, they headed on the road for Games 3 and 4 against the star-studded and two-time defending champions.
Taking down a titan requires taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Game 2 felt like a missed opportunitiy to do just that, a squandered chance to secure a path towards winning a title.
I am, of course, talking about the 2014 San Antonio Spurs.
Kawhi Leonard has been in this position before and as such, it's fitting that Game 3 of the 2019 NBA Finals is being played on the five-year anniversary of the start of the 2014 Finals, the series that marked Leonard's arrival in the public conscience and catapulted him into legitimate stardom.
Up until that point, Leonard played unremarkably. He scored nine points in Game 1 and followed suit with another nine points in Game 2. On the other side, LeBron James was averaging 30 points per game and looked to be well on his way to a third straight Finals MVP.
And then Game 3 happened.
From the jump, it was Leonard that was the best player on the floor. He scored 16 points in the first quarter, part of a Spurs' onslaught that led to a 41-point first quarter and commanding 16-point lead. They never looked back and dominated the rest of that game and the rest of the series. Leonard finished with Game 3 with a game-high 29 points, the first moment where it truly felt as if he had officially arrived on the scene.
While the 2014 Finals as a whole was Leonard's coming out party, it was Game 3 that put the wheels in motion.
Five years later, Leonard has another opportunity to once again make a bold statement.
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Like that Heat team which was beneath the surface coming undone, this Warriors team feels as vulnerable as ever.
As was the case with LeBron James in 2014, Kevin Durant is knocking on the doorstep of free agency. Though he hasn't yet played in this series and is out for Game 3, Durant's impending decision ominously hangs over this series.
As was the case with Dwyane Wade in 2014, Klay Thompson is not fully healthy. Though Wade's was more a by-product of season-long wear and tear for the then 32-year-old as opposed to a Game 2 hamstring strain for the 29-year-old, both carry similar offensive burdens for teams that simply play differently when they're at their best.
As was the case with a 35-year-old Shane Battier in 2014, a 35-year-old Andre Iguodala is being asked to carry a heavier load than perhaps he should at this stage of his career.
That Heat team also had Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Mario Chalmers. This Warriors team has... a banged up DeMarcus Cousins? Jonas Jerebko? Quinn Cook?
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You could make the argument that this Warriors team is even more vulnerable than that Heat team.
Which is why this time around, Game 3 feels even bigger for Leonard than in did back in 2014.
That was a star-making moment. This is a King-making moment with a capital K.
There are only 11 players in the history of the league to win multiple Finals MVP awards. The only ones to do it with two different teams are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James. The former is a six-time regular season MVP and the all-time leading scorer. The latter is unequivocally one of the five greatest players in league history.
That's absolutely insane company.
It's company that Leonard will in all likelihood keep if the Raptors win this series.
When he won his first Finals MVP, it was due in part to a Game 3 win on the road that set the tone for the rest of the series.
If he's going to win a second Finals MVP, it might require a Game 3 win on the road that sets the tone for the rest of the series.
Kawhi Leonard has been here before. Can he deliver once more?
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