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.
Apr 25, 2015, 1:28 AM EDT
Leonard was fantastic at both ends of the court.
Apr 25, 2015, 12:18 AM EDT
The Wizards are moving on. That’s the Truth.
Apr 24, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Dwight Howard grabbed 26 rebounds, too.
Apr 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Portland, down 0-2 to Memphis, needs all the help it can get.
Apr 24, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
NBA continues its technological push.
Apr 24, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Parker is going to finish his degree at Duke.
Apr 24, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
The Warriors eventually won in overtime regardless.
Apr 24, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Looking past the first round to some of the more exciting later matchups to come.
Apr 24, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The long-running rift continues.
Apr 24, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
He’s got to coach whoever they draft anyway, why not?
LeBron James on why Kevin Love gets criticized: ‘When you have a big three, they’ve got to find someone’
Apr 24, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
With Heat, it was Chris Bosh
Apr 24, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT
Aron Baynes doubtful
Apr 24, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Spurs assistant coach achieved incredible success in Europe
Apr 24, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT
Which is ridiculous
Apr 24, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
Despite the chess match going on, guys still have to just hit their looks.
Apr 24, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT
Brave to admit the mistake, but still not inspiring
Apr 24, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT
Johnson a borderline top-10 prospect
Apr 24, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
And I’m not just talking about allowing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer
Apr 24, 2015, 10:33 AM EDT
Is his scoring, size and athleticism worth the trouble? It won’t take long for an NBA team to say yes
Apr 24, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
Bulls point guard looks good – very good
- Behind 32 points from Kawhi Leonard, Spurs rout Clippers to take 2-1 series lead 1
- The Truth (and Marcin Gortat) will set Washington free, up 3-0 on Toronto after win 1
- James Harden scores 42 points to lead Rockets to Game 3 win, 3-0 series lead over Mavericks 14
- Why can’t the Pelicans foul in a timely manner? 7
- PBT Extra: No Rajon Rondo, no Chandler Parsons, Dallas is in trouble vs. Houston 6
- Stephen Curry drops 40, leads 20-point comeback as Warriors beat Pelicans in OT, take 3-0 series lead 10
- Stephen Curry hits ridiculous corner three to force OT (VIDEO) 18
- Bulls pull away in double-overtime to take 3-0 lead over Bucks 10