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Kawhi Leonard becomes youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic

Jun 16, 2014, 1:12 AM EDT

Kawhi Leonard Kawhi Leonard

SAN ANTONIO — Back in 1999, Tim Duncan had just turned 23 a couple months before when he led the Spurs to the first of their five titles, and he was given the Finals MVP.

Kawhi Leonard was a 7-year-old boy at the time.

“I don’t think I watched the Finals when I was 7 years old,” Leonard said. “Probably just busy playing kid games, running around.”

Sunday night — after a 22 point, 10 rebound performance that was his third straight game of at least 20 points — that now 22-year-old boy became the youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic Johnson in 1980. Leonard was a key reason the Spurs are now NBA champs.

Leonard is in just his third year in the league has seen his game evolve to a point he is a key cog on a championship team, and he said Duncan was a big part of that.

“Just coming here and seeing him prepare every day and having that drive and will to want to win at the age he is and after winning all the championships he’s won before I got here just motivated me to go even harder because I’m young, and I couldn’t really do it every day,” Leonard said. “Just seeing him at that age just inspired me.”

Duncan was more honest.

“He came in here after a lockout season, worked hard with us during that summer, and I can’t say that I saw the player that I saw tonight at that point…” Duncan said. “He’s not worried about just doing the little things. He wants to do it all, and he plays with a confidence that is just amazing. I’m honored to be on this team right now because he’s going to be great for years to come, and I’m going to hold on as long as I can.”

It didn’t look that way after two games. Leonard, focused more on defense (he had to guard LeBron James). He scored 9 points in each of those games on a combined 6-of-16 shooting, plus had 4 total rebounds. The series was tied 1-1 and the Heat looked the better team.

Popovich knew he needed more out of Leonard and sat down to talk with him.

“We have conversations throughout the year. They’re mostly one way, because Kawhi’s a really quiet young man…” Popovich said. “So I just talked to him about not being in that deferment or that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game. You are the man. You’re part of the engine that makes us go. And it starts with his defense and his rebounding, and he’s starting to feel his oats offensively, obviously, because I have not called a play for him the whole playoff. I do not call his number. Everything he did was just out of the motion and out of offense, and he’s learned it well.

“In the future, obviously, we’ll use him a lot more on an individual basis. But it’s not really our style, and he appreciates that.”

“It’s like he just played free,” Dwyane Wade said. “You could tell after the first two games, it seemed like his teammates went to him and said just play basketball. He not only took what the defense gave him, he took what he wanted at times as well.”

That is mature play for a guy just 22.

A guy that is the future face of the Spurs once the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili era ends.

That transition really started in these Finals, where Leonard showed on a team with Hall of Famers he was the MVP.

  1. bucrightoff - Jun 16, 2014 at 1:22 AM

    Outside of Anti how can anyone not like him? The anti-LeBron, wants no attention and just wants to play basketball and win championships.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 16, 2014 at 1:25 AM

      When did I say I didn’t like Leonard? I just said he’s not going to be a superstar. He’s a good player, but will he even be an all-star next year? I don’t know.

      • azarkhan - Jun 16, 2014 at 10:24 AM

        With every comment anti, you look more and more ignorant.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:16 PM

        Well thanks for your opinion. But do us a favor and explain specifically why you think this comment makes me look more and more ignorant.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:11 AM

        I know he was NBA FINALS MVP vs. the HEAT this season.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:13 AM

        Maybe he’ll step his game up and perhaps make the all-star team this year…

        Or maybe not. We’ll have to see.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:18 AM

        ask your BROS WADE and BOSH to tutor him…lol.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:18 AM

        you are so delusional.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:21 AM

        when was the last time you “hung out” with your Bro Wade without buying a Heat ticket?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:23 AM

        Are you drunk? Why are you rambling? Isn’t it past midnight in Indiana?

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:29 AM

        Good joke but if you are going to use Chris Bosh’s jokes from Thanksgiving you should cite him. What kind of a BRO does that to his BRO. Especially when his BRO is a PRO.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:41 AM

        Okay, so “drunk poster” is definitely going under your tab.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:55 AM

        what makes me drunk? I do not drink.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:30 AM

        Does your internet stop working at the old folks home at midnight?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:42 AM

        No, it’s just that you’re rambling about various unrelated things and have started to become incoherent – so I think it’s time for you to take your last sip and hit the hay.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:35 AM

        where did you go? You on the phone with ‘Bron?

      • npr772013 - Jun 24, 2014 at 2:19 AM

        He just got the biggest award there is, the Finals MVP…that he is an all star next year is absolutely unimportant right now…

      • antistratfordian - Jun 24, 2014 at 3:10 PM

        The Finals MVP is not the biggest award there is. That would be the NBA MVP. Cedric Maxwell and Chauncey Billups have Finals MVPs.

        Winning an MVP virtually guarantees that you’re going to be in the Hall of Fame. That isn’t the case with Finals MVP.

  2. antistratfordian - Jun 16, 2014 at 1:24 AM

    Not much to choose from while trying to pick an MVP from the Spurs. Leonard should probably give it to the whole team. The best individual player in this series was LeBron, obviously.

    • abchome - Jun 16, 2014 at 1:38 AM

      Lebron’s team lost though…

      • antistratfordian - Jun 16, 2014 at 1:44 AM

        Yeah, well it’s like the league MVP. The best player doesn’t always win it. But James wouldn’t want it even if they gave it to him – West told him that the worst feeling he ever had was winning Finals MVP while losing.

    • babyfarkmcgeezax - Jun 16, 2014 at 1:52 AM

      I’m sure the Heat could have gotten crushed just as easily without LeBron. His contributions weren’t valuable to his team. They still got smoked.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 16, 2014 at 1:58 AM

        He was the only one contributing. He was the sole reason they won Game 2. James scored as much in this series as Wade and Bosh combined.

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 16, 2014 at 8:00 AM

        And yet the King still scored LESS in the playoffs than the MVP Kevin Durant did…

    • tuberippin - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:17 AM

      Anti, can you just shut up for once? Season’s over. Heat lost. Your boy’s a free agent. Give it a rest already.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:40 AM

        2014-15 just begun and nobody is the champion of that yet. You can bet your bottom dollar that Bron will want all of his trophies back.

      • bhunter1995 - Jun 16, 2014 at 6:59 AM

        Anti your comments get like two thumbs up and fifty down, get the message please, and stop ridning LBJ to the point where you sound stupid. Lebron should win finals MVP is something you posted ahove, how can you be so dumb.

      • spursareold - Jun 16, 2014 at 8:15 AM

        Right now, there isn’t much difference between the 2014 Miami Heat and the 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers. They’ve aged rapidly, and poorly.

    • unfrozencavemanlawyer2 - Jun 16, 2014 at 7:37 AM

      Your bitterness is limitless and your delusion is boundless. Don’t ever change- trolls like you make the internet what it is. You can console yourself with the following thought- Lebron really can guard anyone- even the NBA Finals MVP.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 16, 2014 at 2:50 PM

        Did I say something delusional there? There really isn’t one Spurs MVP in this series, and James was the best player. Seems reasonable to me. I think you’re just mad.

  3. nfl4days - Jun 16, 2014 at 2:19 AM

    I have so much respect for this guy. He showed me a lot in last years finals and thisnyears finals he stepped up big. Even though I was rooting for the heat, im happy this spurs team got a ring. They deserved it.

  4. mackcarrington - Jun 16, 2014 at 2:29 AM

    I’ve just figured it out!
    Anti is really one of Lebron’s boys. He’s on the payroll. Must be one of the Akron crew. Living large off of Lebron’s money.
    NOBODY is that big of a fanboy without some personal connection. I’ts Ok. Nothing wrong with being one of James’ homies.
    I know I’m right because you defend him waaaaay too much. I know there’s a personal connection. Are you his valet? His driver? His chef? Do you clean his bathroom? I admire your loyalty to your boy. Just come clean and admit it. Because if you aren’t one of his homies, then there is something wrong with you. If not, then you aren’t much more than male groupie. Those are worse than the female ones. Just come clean Anti.

  5. lakerade - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:11 AM

    Straight baller. Let his game do ALL the talking, until it was left to his opponents to heap on the praise after the fact. Much respect, looking forward to his growing place in the league.

  6. tominma - Jun 16, 2014 at 6:06 AM

    I don’t get to see the Spurs much up here. But what I have always enjoyed is that the Spurs play basketball the way it was meant to be played! They remind me of the old Celtics era. Congrats Spurs!

  7. ravenswhat - Jun 16, 2014 at 7:37 AM

    Impossible not to respect, appreciate and admire the player he is. Unbelievable performance.

  8. spillz121 - Jun 16, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    Kawhi-et Leonard MVP!!

    We’ll deserved young man

  9. 1heatedtoombrayduh - Jun 16, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    I came to this post to congratulate an excellent Spurs Team and organization…this trophy you won is well deserved man…big shout out to all the Spurs fans that dont believe EVERY heat fan is a bandwagoner and actually likes good bball…enjoy it you guys..you earned it!

    • Kansachusetts - Jun 16, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      well said

  10. spillz121 - Jun 16, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    *well

  11. jtbsteeler - Jun 16, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    Pacer fans, I told you about George Hill.

  12. rn1997 - Jun 16, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    SOOOOOO proud of this kid!!! He is carrying on the Spurs tradition of winning WITHOUT all the talking! It’s refreshing in this era of ego-obsessed athletes.

    • the1nonlyk - Jun 16, 2014 at 7:38 PM

      agreed!!! amazing to find someone that loves the game more than anything else (actually the whole spurs team is like this). this kid is amazing and will only continue to improve. congrats!!

  13. rn1997 - Jun 17, 2014 at 2:54 AM

    Girls……..girls………girls!!!!!!!

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