Cervi was made to rue his error just short of the hour, when Dortmund sucker-punched Benfica on the counter. Ederson made a smart save to deny Aubameyang, though was powerless to stop a smart Pulisic chip seconds later. Dortmund had ridden their luck, but had the aggregate advantage once more.
It took them just a couple of minutes to add a third, with Benfica’s defense — so well organized in the first half — punished for switching off once more. A first-time cross from Marcel Schmelzer on the left was gleefully gobbled up by Aubameyang, who was left with the simple task of tapping beyond Ederson from point-blank range.
Benfica’s swift capitulation all but killed the tie, with the Portuguese champions unable to muster a response. All that was left was for Aubameyang to complete his hat trick, which he did with five minutes of normal time remaining. It was another tap-in for the Gabonese international, who converted Erik Durm’s low cross to cap the victory.
There’s some real cognitive dissonance going on when we genuflect before LeBron when the playoffs begin, but dismiss his case as the most valuable player in the league just before that. If we roll our eyes at Karl Malone’s 1997 MVP over Michael Jordan, shouldn’t we be suspect of any MVP not won by LeBron in the current era?
As for Kawhi, the odds of him actually winning the MVP are low. Defense still isn’t priced into the MVP award as it should be. Leonard is the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, anchoring the league’s best resistance again. He’s the only defender in the league you can trust to guard LeBron and Steph Curry.
Just as Westbrook’s high usage rate and penchant for triple-doubles is historic, so is Kawhi’s two-way game. His impact on the game reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon — Leonard just looms on every possession on both ends. That doesn’t result in particularly gaudy numbers (though he is averaging 30 per game over the last two months). But to dismiss it out of hand in deference to Westbrook seems misguided.
Westbrook could very well win the MVP, and may deserve it more than any other candidate. The race isn’t over yet, though. Let’s see what happens before anointing anyone.