Once upon a time, Kawhi Leonard was indestructible.
He was the mysterious and brooding superhero assassin deployed by Gregg Popovich. He was a Weapon X prototype, designed to ruthlessly destroy without a hint of emotion.
If the San Antonio Spurs were a highly efficient soldier, then Kawhi was its cyborg arm. This arm’s secret weapon: its long, indestructible claws.
Then, the cyborg arm went rogue.
Dismantling himself from the Spurs, Kawhi took on a new form and went to Canada. He turned into a “fun guy” and developed a signature laugh—all while destroying opponents with the same ruthlessness.
Then, he went home.
With all the adventure behind him, Kawhi picked up a homecoming vibe in Los Angeles, stripped of all the mystique. No more superhero-slash-mercenary stuff. It was just plain old Kawhi doing impressive basketball things for the Clippers.
Then, it happened—a special moment that made us question if Kawhi Leonard is, indeed, human.
It happened in Game 3 of the 2020 Western Conference semifinals between the Clippers and the Denver Nuggets. The series was tied 1-1, with no team holding an advantage.
With less than two minutes left in the game, the Clippers hanging on to a six-point lead, Denver’s Jamal Murray wanted to pull off a nasty plan.
Murray, a fearless mercenary-type himself, saw an opening in the lane and went for it. He elevated then cocked back his right arm, hoping to generate as much power as he needed for an in-air duel with Kawhi.
Murray almost succeeded. He went high up—Kawhi going high up with him—then he went higher. As the explosive dunk came closer to detonation, it was stopped by Kawhi’s legendary claws.
In real-time, that’s how it looked like. In super slow motion, what happened was far more unbelievable.
Up to that point, Kawhi had been unimpressive offensively. His 3s weren’t falling; shots that were usually automatic weren’t. He had to make up for it defensively.
As Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard battled mid-air, the Kawhi of old made a brief appearance. For one significant, game-changing play, he channeled the robo-Kawhi of the past and blocked the dunk attempt with one finger.
That’s right. He didn’t even use the famed “Klaw” in this instance. Just one long, middle finger to prevent a Jamal Murray poster. It felt like the MJ dunk scene in Space Jam but instead of arms stretching to complete the slam, it was Kawhi’s finger growing to complete the block. It was that out of the ordinary.
It was one of those things that will forever be tied to the Kawhi myth. There was the weird laugh, the blank stares, and The Shot against the Sixers. Add the middle-finger block.
When asked about the incredibly pivotal play after the game, Kawhi described it in the most Kawhi way possible.
"I just saw him penetrating," Kawhi said postgame. "So I stepped up and tried to contest his shot."