NBA Playoffs, Clippers-Spurs Game 2: The 5 Key Matchups

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Matt Barnes vs Kawhi Leonard

Apr 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Aron Baynes (16) fights for a loose ball with Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) and forward Matt Barnes (22) during the third quarter in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Barnes may not offer much more offensively than some cuts to the basket and a nice touch of 36.2 percent three-point shooting. Yet he’s so important in this series because he’s the best wing player that the Clippers have when it comes to dealing with the Spurs’ brightest young star; Kawhi Leonard.

The reigning Finals MVP may not excel from behind the arc (he’s made a moderate 34.9 percent of his threes this year), which is a slight problem due to the Spurs’ movement oriented offense that often relies on swinging the ball around to open shooters, but he’s an instrumental part of their team.

Primarily, because of his defense.

In just his fourth year in the league, Leonard ended this season ranked first in defensive rating with 96.4 and first in steals per game with 2.3.

What with his high motor, wing span that exceeds 7 feet and his 6’7″ frame, and it’s no surprise that he reaps havoc on the perimeter. Which is why it’s inevitable that, sooner or later, he’s going to make life far more difficult for the Clippers’ wing players than he did in game one.

It’s not just defense, though. Leonard’s offensive game has continued to improve, and this season he averaged a career high 16.5 points per game to emerge as the Spurs’ new leading scorer. And if Jordan continues to limit the effectiveness of Duncan in the paint, San Antonio are going to look to Kawhi as a scoring option even more.

This is where Matt Barnes comes into the equation.

Of course, Chris Paul is one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, but it’s safe to say that Leonard has a bit of a size mismatch if CP3 guards him. Meaning the toughness and grit that Barnes brings to every game — which he showed perfectly on Sunday by wrestling into the crowd to snatch a loose ball off Aron Baynes — is going to be vital in reducing the impact of Leonard.

Kawhi had a respectable 18 points whilst shooting 7-0f-12 from the floor in game one, and if Jordan can continue to make the Spurs’ life difficult in the paint, Barnes will be essential in stopping Leonard: San Antonio’s next biggest threat.