You knew the Spurs would answer the bell. You knew they wouldn’t lay back-to-back eggs. But after looking old, dead and buried in Game 1, San Antonio punked Houston the same way the Rockets got the Spurs. And after an MVP debate that focused on Russ and the Beard — Kawhi reminded everybody that the third man in is every bit as dangerous as the other two guys.

Because that’s a performance that’s as close to flawless as it gets.

Offensively — 13 of 16 from the floor, 34 points, 7 boards and 8 dimes. And then LOCK DOWN D on James Harden after the Beard GASSED San Antonio in Game 1, holding Harden to just 3 of 17 shooting, and picking up ZERO FOULS on a guy who gets to the line better than anybody in the game.

That’s the kind of adjustment you knew San Antonio would make. After watching LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and David Lee get turned inside out against Harden — after looking old, slow and overmatched in that track meet Houston put on in Game 1, Pop put Lee on the bench, put Kawhi on the Beard, got smaller and more athletic as the Spurs responded to a 27-point beatdown with a 25 point blowout of their own.

So that’s two 10-8 rounds in two games. That’s two wildly divergent performances by two really good basketball teams. And this a series that still is finding its footing as it heads to Houston — both teams swinging and landing heavy shots, with both having to counter punch and shake off the effects of a couple of big, big haymakers.

And after trying to see if a team could slow down Harden, Pop did what he had to — went ELITE vs ELITE and put his best on their best — and Kawhi locked it down on the defensive end of the court and still had gas in the tank to carry the Spurs offense. And that’s scary. Because slowing down Harden is hard enough. Keeping him off the line is impossible. Yet Kawhi did it — fighting through screens refusing to be switched off Harden, all while playing a near perfect game offensively.

And that offense ran squarely through him, something that’s only going to continue as the Spurs will be without Tony Parker.

The Beard isn’t 100%, and whether it’s his hip or his ankle, he’s too important for the Rockets to do anything but have him gut his way through it.

But you shouldn’t have wondered if the Spurs would get up off the canvas. Of course they would.

And after a first-round series had Harden get the best of Russ, Kawhi’s got next — and he’s sure as hell not backing down from this challenge.


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