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.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:15 PM EST
Marc Gasol is a beast.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:38 PM EST
Who was that masked man?
Mar 4, 2015, 9:58 PM EST
Why didn’t Utah have Rudy Gobert protecting rim?
Mar 4, 2015, 9:35 PM EST
What penalty should Frazier receive?
Mar 4, 2015, 8:44 PM EST
Pacers are ganging up on Denver players
Mar 4, 2015, 7:53 PM EST
Sorry, Mark Cuban
Mar 4, 2015, 7:09 PM EST
He missed five games with a strained shoulder.
Mar 4, 2015, 6:14 PM EST
Don’t be shocked if the final price tag is close to $1 billion. Yes, for the Hawks.
Mar 4, 2015, 5:15 PM EST
Except you don’t really want a strong point guard in Phil Jackson’s triangle.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
Some guys turn things around, bu Hairston has a lot of work to do.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
Singing is awful, but the dancing is fantastic.
Mar 4, 2015, 2:58 PM EST
Allen isn’t officially retiring just yet, says he’ll reassess things in advance of next season.
Mar 4, 2015, 2:15 PM EST
Davis has missed the last six games with a shoulder injury.
Mar 4, 2015, 1:28 PM EST
He should put up numbers against the Sixers. Then again he puts up numbers on everyone.
Joakim Noah says non-violence video he put out helped him maintain composure after flagrant foul from Wizards’ Nene
Mar 4, 2015, 12:45 PM EST
Nene whacked Noah in the face, but Noah didn’t respond.
Mar 4, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
Chemistry issues in Memphis?
Mar 4, 2015, 11:20 AM EST
League is releasing officiating reports for all calls made in a close game’s final two minutes, and the results are fascinating.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:40 AM EST
Nifty but necessary move by LeBron to earn the easy two points.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
Suns in another unnecessary disagreement with a former player.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:20 AM EST
Knicks starting five combined for just 24 points, and New York trailed by as many as 44 before this one was finished.
- George Karl: Knicks could use a strong point guard next to Carmelo Anthony 7
- Ray Allen announces he will not play this season 13
- Pelicans’ Anthony Davis a gametime decision Wednesday vs. Pistons 1
- Derek Fisher questions ‘character and integrity’ of players after Knicks lose to Kings by 38 points 29
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: The Hawks clinched playoff spot in front of Josh Smith 6
- Nuggets need to decide direction, then hire coach 18
- Report: Russell Westbrook ‘likely’ to return to Thunder lineup Wednesday, will wear protective mask 13
- Nuggets have fired head coach Brian Shaw 30