Jun 16, 2014, 1:12 AM EST
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.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:01 AM EST
Can we just get through the rest of this season without any more major NBA injuries, please?
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
Brad Stevens reportedly likes Prince, so a buyout may not be in the cards.
Derek Fisher didn’t realize motivating his players would be such a big part of being an NBA head coach
Jan 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Fisher played 18 years, and claims that his motivation always came from within.
After being fined for obscene gesture, Dwyane Wade asks NBA to improve on ways it protects players from fans
Jan 24, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Wade was fined for flipping off some fans who he believed crossed the line.
Jan 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
“He had his chance to reach out,” Waiters said.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Howard left the game after just eight minutes and did not return.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:17 PM EST
Aldridge has a tear in his left thumb, and was originally set to be sidelined 6-8 weeks.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Drama in Dallas?
Jan 24, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
The inside access here makes this a must-watch.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Before recent trades, players believed the team would go no further than the second round of the playoffs.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
Green was completely amazed, just like the rest of us.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
That is as good a step-back jumper as you will see.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 AM EST
There are $25 million Kobe will be back next season.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:45 AM EST
Somebody is making their All-Star case.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:16 AM EST
Lakers star could also above and beyond and chase Michael Jordan’s comeback
Mark Cuban says fan voting system for All-Stars is ‘broken,’ small number of total votes shows ‘nobody cares’
Jan 23, 2015, 11:30 PM EST
Cuban want to eliminate fans voting for the All-Star starters.
Jan 23, 2015, 10:15 PM EST
It’s a good thing, because he received fewer votes than Marcin Gortat.
Jan 23, 2015, 9:15 PM EST
Maybe, but the field is simply too crowded in the West for Ellis to have a reasonable shot.
Jan 23, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
I’m no expert in copyright law, but this strikes me as the kind of lawsuit that gets settled out of court.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
So he plans to play for the Knicks until 2050?
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- Kobe Bryant will be back next season, he can’t resist the challenge 20
- Klay Thompson sets NBA record with 37 point quarter (VIDEO) 36
- If injury is serious, it would go against history for Kobe to be productive again 16
- Sixers’ leading scorer Tony Wroten suffers partially torn ACL, likely done for season 12