Skip to content

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Arron Afflalo expected to play for Blazers in Game 3 vs. Grizzlies

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT

    New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers Getty Images

    Portland, down 0-2 to Memphis, needs all the help it can get.

  2. NBA, 20 teams launch apps for Apple Watch

    Apr 24, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT

    celtics-cavs

    NBA continues its technological push.

  3. PBT Extra: Great playoff series to come in later rounds

    Apr 24, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers

    Looking past the first round to some of the more exciting later matchups to come.

  4. Lakers to send Byron Scott to NBA Draft lottery

    Apr 24, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

    He’s got to coach whoever they draft anyway, why not?

  5. Report: Thunder considering Ettore Messina for coach

    Apr 24, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT

    San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Two Getty Images

    Spurs assistant coach achieved incredible success in Europe

  6. Gregg Popovich’s main adjustment: Hope his guys just shoot better

    Apr 24, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT

    San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Two Getty Images

    Despite the chess match going on, guys still have to just hit their looks.

  7. Why can’t the Pelicans foul in a timely manner?

    Apr 24, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT

    Monty Williams Monty Williams

    And I’m not just talking about allowing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer

  8. Probable top-10 pick Mario Hezonja declares for NBA draft

    Apr 24, 2015, 10:33 AM EDT

    Galatasaray Liv Hospital Istanbul v FC Barcelona - Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16 Getty Images

    Is his scoring, size and athleticism worth the trouble? It won’t take long for an NBA team to say yes

  9. Derrick Rose scorches Bucks for 34 points (video)

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT

    Chicago Bulls v Milwaukee Bucks-Game Three Getty Images

    Bulls point guard looks good – very good

Featured video

Injuries not why Scott Brooks lost his job
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. C. Parsons (4348)
  2. D. Lee (3853)
  3. K. Durant (3771)
  4. D. Rose (3632)
  5. T. Splitter (3542)
  1. A. Afflalo (3511)
  2. D. Harris (3503)
  3. R. Rondo (3490)
  4. P. George (3449)
  5. L. James (3423)