Jun 16, 2014, 1:12 AM EDT
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.
May 25, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
The league had been exploring moving Game 1 up to June 2.
May 25, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Horford was ejected from Game 3.
May 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Cavaliers star says he will research case further before saying more
May 25, 2015, 2:59 PM EDT
Doc Rivers decided to offer his mid-level exception money last summer to Spencer Hawes instead of Pierce. He’d like that one over.
May 25, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Expect a resilient Rockets team on Monday night.
May 25, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Cavaliers center shakes it off
May 25, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
It probably won’t happen, but…
May 25, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Cavaliers guard disagrees
May 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
LeBron finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists .
May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
The Hawks’ night goes from bad to worse.
LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks
May 25, 2015, 12:09 AM EDT
The Cavs are one win away from the Finals.
May 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
He’s not wrong.
May 24, 2015, 9:46 PM EDT
A trend is becoming clear: Do not mess with Dellavedova.
May 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
The question really is now much do you value the three?
May 24, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
Matthew Dellavedova will start for the Cavaliers.
May 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
The Lakers will be picking second in next month’s draft.
Report: Heat still considered the frontrunners to re-sign Goran Dragic, but he wants them to play faster
May 24, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Dragic can become a free agent this summer.
May 24, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The rapper wants Harden to apologize for stealing his dance.
May 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Korver suffered an ankle injury in Game 2.
May 24, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Cleveland has put in a bid for the 2018 event.
- Rumor: Paul Pierce might opt out of contract with Wizards, join Clippers 14
- Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets Game 4: Three things to watch from Houston 6
- LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks 29
- Kyrie Irving out for Game 3 for Cavaliers with knee tendonitis 3
- Lil B says James Harden is officially under the Based God’s curse 30
- Warriors don’t live by 3, die by 3. They live by defense, live by defense 9
- Stephen Curry drops 40, Warriors rout Rockets by 35 to take 3-0 series lead 27
- Hawks Kyle Korver out for remainder of playoffs with high ankle sprain 17