Kawhi Leonard's rise led to Heat's fall

Kawhi Leonard

So this is what revenge looks like. This is what laser-focus, show and prove, "You all didn't win the Finals last year, we lost it" looks like. This is what one team totally separating itself from the two-time defending champs looks like. This is what experiencing something authentically special in sports feels like.

And inside this retaliatory Spurs performance -- which has experts, analysts, aficionados and pundits looking at where this team ranks in historical context -- is the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, a player who could easily, right now, be singled out as the future of basketball.

Going into these playoffs, I asked two questions: Is Kawhi Leonard man enough to take Manu Ginobili's role with the Spurs, and will the weight of "carrying" the Heat catch up to LeBron James? I think over the course of the Finals, the answer to both -- if not more -- has become evident.

It's beautiful to watch someone find himself. Kawhi going from role player to winning Finals MVP is only a part of that beauty. Over the course of the last three games in the Finals, we watched the Spurs elevate the standard of excellence to a level the millennial generation has yet to see in professional basketball. As Tim Duncan said on the court, as the towel around his neck soaked up his championship sweat, about the win: "It makes last year OK."

Keith Olbermann used the word "subsumed" in describing what the Spurs have done to the Heat. I've been recorded using the words "ass whopping." All the same, the shift that has occurred in these Finals will more than likely be described years later as one that had more impact on the legacy of the LeBron era in Miami than the two championships the Heat won.

That doesn't detract from the fact that this Spurs team is the best of all the Spurs teams that have ever won a championship. Largest point differential in NBA Finals history. Highest offensive efficiency in an NBA Finals played since 1979-80. Highest effective field goal percentage -- 60.4 percent -- in an NBA Finals since the 3-point line was implemented. And that 60.4 percent combined with an overall offensive rating of 118.5 are the highest of any team that has won an NBA Finals since Bird and Magic came into the league. Add to that the fact that, of the other four championships they've won over the past 15 years, none has been against a two-time defending championship team that had the best player alive as an obstacle.

And this is where Leonard comes into the conversation in regard to his possible place in contemporary basketball as the one player who has the ability and opportunity to be -- for this generation -- exactly what Tim Duncan has been for the past two decades.

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