Kawhi Leonard shines. When he wants to

All-Star MVP Kawhi Leonard
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

CHICAGO – Kawhi Leonard spoke so softly during his on-court post-game interview, he was barely audible inside the arena. The crowd murmured, displeased not to hear the MVP of a thrilling All-Star game. Someone yelled for Leonard to speak up.

Leonard just lets his game do the talking.

Especially on the biggest stages.

“I always just want to play on an MVP level so my team can win,” Leonard said.

After winning NBA Finals MVP with the Spurs and Raptors, Leonard now adds another award to his collection. Yet, as great as he is, Leonard has never won regular-season MVP.

Just five players have won Finals MVP and All-Star MVP without winning regular-season MVP:

  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Isiah Thomas
  • Jerry West
  • Rick Barry

That group shares a certain ability to rise to the occasion, to thrive in the biggest moments… while not being quite as dependably great as their peers.

Leonard said he’d love to win a regular-season MVP, but his focus is on championships. That’s why he’s unlikely to win the award. He has become the face of load management, sitting to ensure he’s healthy for the playoffs. It’s a sound strategy that paid off big in Toronto and is therefore even more likely to be duplicated.

So, it’s a treat to see Leonard at his best – like he was Sunday.

Both teams picked up the intensity in the fourth quarter with the new All-Star format. But Leonard brought it from the start. He scored 25 points in the first half, drilling 3s and rarely missing.

“I’m going to play hard,” said Leonard, who had 30 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. “That’s what I do. I want to go in and win every game.”

Every game he plays, that is.