NBA Playoffs 2013: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard Hold the Key for San Antonio Spurs

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2013

Mar 22, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) celebrates a score with guard Danny Green (4) during the second half against the Utah Jazz at the AT&T Center. The Spurs on 104-97 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The fate of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals rests on the play of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.

Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will demand the most attention from the fans and media, but it will be the play of the two forwards that will be the most pivotal for the Spurs against the Miami Heat.

As the National Post's basketball reporter Eric Koreen noted, it's about time that Leonard had the opportunity to really shine:

He's been a tremendous perimeter defender all season, and he's stepped up his game in the playoffs. Green hasn't been far behind, either.

When Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were having their way from outside, Gregg Popovich made sure to rotate his defense so that it would be Leonard and Green primarily getting out on Thompson and Curry. That helped turn the series.

It's little wonder San Antonio was able to find the difference against the Golden State Warriors and shut down what had been their lights-out shooting.

Now the task is going to be even bigger for Leonard as he's going to be defending LeBron James. It will be an intriguing matchup and almost as good as the series itself. Here's to hoping they just put a camera on James the whole game so fans can see how the Spurs react and defend on each of Miami's possessions.

What's great about Leonard is the way that he can turn defense into offense immediately. He finished the regular season averaging 1.7 steals per game. Of course he can gamble a bit too much at times, but you'd much rather have Leonard continue to try and jump passing lanes.

LeBron had a very good series against the Pacers, but Paul George made things very difficult for him. If you can stop LBJ even in the slightest, you leave yourself with a great chance to take this series.

Leonard is not quite the defender that George is, nor does he have same kind of offensive game. But he's got the speed and skill to at least force James into taking some ill-advised shots and to limit his drives to the basket.

Green will come into play with Dwyane Wade and the Heat's three-point specialists.

Wade was not himself against the Pacers. He struggled from the field and didn't give James a ton of support offensively.

The Spurs don't have a player who is Wade's equal, but if he continues to have problems, Green might have enough to limit his scoring. That could be enough as James might not able to overcome the strong overall team play of San Antonio.

If Green has problems with Wade, then Ginobili could come over and help. That would let Green get out on shooters like Norris Cole and Ray Allen, which is what he did so well against the Warriors.

The Heat are so good when they can knock down three-pointers and really open the floor for James and Wade. If Green can cut off their chances, then the Spurs can collapse the paint even more and clog up the space in the lane.

This should be a great series between two different teams. You've got the Heat with all their star power on one side and the Spurs with their team ethic on the other. It's up to Green and Leonard to try and contain Miami's biggest stars.