Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Three

Spurs appreciate Kawhi Leonard’s quiet confidence

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SAN ANTONIO — Kawhi Leonard is in only his second NBA season, but he’s already an extremely important part of the Spurs and their championship aspirations.

Leonard’s defense on LeBron James has helped limit the league MVP to 18 points or less in each of the first three games of the Finals, and when he’s not been the one who’s stopped James personally, his positioning in forcing him into where the help defense is waiting has been tactically excellent on a very high percentage of those possessions.

But Leonard’s emergence hasn’t done anything to change his personality, which remains as quiet as his play is confident.

“Kawhi has never spoken to me,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in his typically dry tone on Wednesday. “So I don’t really know what his level of confidence is, but watching him play, it seems he has no problem in that area. He just plays and goes home.”

The way Leonard carries himself has been a perfect fit for this Spurs team that consistently has downplayed stardom in favor of working for the collective greater good, and Popovich knows that it’s a special quality that not everyone possesses.

“Really, really rare,” Popovich said. “He just doesn’t seem to have doubts. He has aspects of the game that he wants to and does work on daily. But he never shows doubt. He just shows his willingness to go to work.”

Tim Duncan couldn’t think of an instance where he’s seen Leonard lose his composure or his confidence, but admitted it might be tough to tell if in fact that was ever the case.

“I don’t think he expresses enough emotion to know either way,” Duncan said. “He’s always the same. He’s always even keeled and he always looks like he’s right where he wants to be.”

Leonard doesn’t even want to absorb any credit yet for the job he’s done on James to this point, preferring instead to praise the team concept while emulating Duncan and Popovich by doing so with as few words as possible.

“I’m studying my team concepts and just buying into our game plan,” Leonard said. “That’s all I’m doing. Playing hard.”

He’s just another cog in the Spurs machine in his eyes, and that’s what makes him a perfect fit for a team full of selfless stars that finds itself halfway to a championship — not because of the heroics of Duncan and Tony Parker, but because of guys precisely like Leonard who do their job without much more than a whisper.

Boston’s Marcus Smart gets flopping warning from NBA

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17:  Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on October 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of the league’s more notorious floppers.

He was at it again Monday night against the Houston Rockets — and the league called him on it and gave him a warning.

It happened on the game’s final play — you were probably focused elsewhere, wondering how Al Horford could miss the game-winning layup. But watch Smart as he gets in position for the rebound on that shot.

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The referees didn’t buy it then.

This warning is barely a slap on the wrist. If — in his case, when — Smart gets caught a second time this season he will get a $5,000 fine from the league. Smart is making $3.6 million this season.

Happy birthday Larry Bird. We celebrate with some highlights.

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Larry Bird — the Celtics legend, three-time NBA champion, three-time MVP, 10-time All-NBA — turns 60 on Wednesday.

We celebrate by looking back at his 60-point game March 12, 1985, against the Hawks (video above, and yes that game was played in New Orleans).

Want more Larry the Legend highlights? We got you covered.

Hawks’ Mike Scott sent to D-League on rehab assignment

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Mike Scott #32 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott is expected to play at least two games in the NBA Development League as he comes back from a knee injury that kept him out of training camp and the first 18 games of the season.

Scott played 15 minutes for the Delaware 87ers in Tuesday night’s loss to the Santa Cruz Warriors. He scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting, missing all four of his attempts from 3-point range.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer says the D-League is the best way for Scott to get “meaningful, competitive minutes” after undergoing a non-surgical procedure on his left knee.

Scott has played three games for Atlanta since his return. In 28 minutes, he has two points on 1-of-9 attempts, to go along with eight rebounds and six assists.

Watch Kyle O’Quinn throw alley-oop to Carmelo Anthony

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Carmelo Anthony isn’t young anymore, but he had the bounce to go get this one.

These were your two best players for the Knicks in their win over Miami Tuesday. Kyle O'Quinn was forced into action earlier than expected when Joakim Noah went on a fouling spree in the third quarter, but O’Quinn played well in the role. ‘Melo dropped 35 on 27 shots — he’s not as efficient as he once was, but he can still get some buckets.

The Knicks picked up a needed win, because they play a back-to-back Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers and a ticked-off LeBron James (New York will pay the price for Phil Jackson’s “posse” comments with a motivated LeBron Wednesday).