Tag: Gregg Popovich

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers

Popovich says he’s got to get Kawhi Leonard more touches to groom him for future


LOS ANGELES — “We ran more plays for him tonight than I ever have in his career.”

That’s what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Kawhi Leonard on Monday night, after his young star made defensive plays — three steals — that helped spark a come-from-behind win over the Clippers. The fact is Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were cold while Kawhi Leonard had Jamal Crawford on him, not exactly a stellar defender, so Leonard got the touches and finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

The next night against the Warriors Leonard had two key fourth quarter threes on his way to 19 points in another big Spurs road win.

Leonard got off to a slow start this season after suffering an eye infection that kept him away from the team for about three weeks. Now he’s back and while the eye isn’t 100 percent it’s healthy, and with his conditioning returning and the rust shaking off Leonard is looking like his old self.

Which means he’s going to get more and more touches — he’s the foundation for this Spurs team once Duncan and Manu Ginobili step away (something that could well happen next summer).

“We’ve got to start giving him the ball, he’s the future,” Popovich said. “I don’t think Timmy and Manu are going to play any more than six or seven more years.”

That got a laugh. But Leonard said he appreciated that Popovich is calling his number more now.

“It’s better to walk it than to hear him just talk about it…” Leonard said after the win in Los Angeles. “Just going to need that to keep moving forward, to be a better player, rather than when that time comes it just hits me in the face and I don’t know what to do or manage it. But if we keep moving forward it would be great.”

Of course, to make him the future means to re-sign him this summer when Leonard is a restricted free agent. Both sides want to get that done, expect it to happen. And in a very Spurs way, with little fanfare.

Leonard is averaging 11.3 shot attempts a game, up 1.5 from the year before, but expect that number to grow (and his shooting percentages to return to normal now that his vision is clearing up with the infection gone).

The last couple games Leonard has looked a lot like that Finals MVP player from last June. Just one who is a little more at the heart of the Spurs offense (although Parker is the catalyst). It’s a trend we’re going to see all season, because Popovich is grooming Leonard to be the future of the Spurs.

For Spurs players Finals win is cathartic… and the legacy is nice, too

Tim Duncan

SAN ANTONIO — In as dominant as an NBA Finals performance as you will ever see, the San Antonio Spurs catapulted their legacy up with the all-time great franchises of an era — five titles over 15 years, an unparalleled length of greatness in the modern era.

After the game the Spurs players didn’t talk much about that.

What they talked about openly was how this was cathartic. How they needed this win to remove the sting of scars from the last three years and everything that was said about them.

There was 2011 when the Spurs were the No. 1 seed muscled out of the playoffs by the Grizzlies in the first round. Clearly these Spurs were too old.

There was 2012 and games 3-6 of the Western Conference Finals when the Thunder swept them out of the playoffs, when it looked like the younger generation had passed the Spurs by.

Then there was the most painful cut of all — 2013 Game 6 of the NBA Finals against Miami.

This championship exorcized all those demons.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” Manu Ginobili said. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty. We all felt that we let teammates down. But we work hard. We thought every game in the regular season trying to get better to have the same opportunity again.

“We got to this spot, and we didn’t let it go.”

This was more than just revenge, more than just about the yellow rope coming out and Ray Allen hitting a three. For the Spurs this was years of working, evolving the roster and offense, the focus on process, of buying in, of playing basketball “the right way,” of preaching sacrifice and selflessness in a league where salaries can be determined by numbers.

It all paid off in the grandest of ways.

The San Antonio Spurs absolutely owned the two-time defending champion Heat through the final three games of this series. The better team was never in doubt.

Tim Duncan has become the first player to be a starter on a championship team in three different decades (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and now 2014). He went from being the 23-year-old Finals MVP to the 38-year-old who still averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds in the NBA Finals.

But legacy was not the motivation so much as erasing pain. Specifically the loss to the Heat last year. Every Spurs player mentioned it, as did coach Gregg Popovich.

“Last year’s loss was devastating. I’ve said many times, a day didn’t go by where I didn’t think about Game 6,” Popovich said. “So I think just in general, for the group to have the fortitude that they showed to get back to this spot, I think speaks volumes about how they’re constituted and what kind of fiber they have.”

“It’s been a long time, but it makes it even sweeter,” Tony Parker said. “That’s why I say it’s the sweetest one because it’s just unbelievable to win seven years ago and to be so close last year, it was very cruel, but that’s the beauty of sport. Sometimes it’s tough. And sometimes it can be beautiful like today, because it shows a lot of character of the team to take a loss and to come back the following year and to win the whole thing.”

Those scars may remain on the Spurs, but you won’t notice them as you are blinded by the five flashy, diamond-studded rings. Those five rings leave a legendary legacy for the Tim Duncan-era Spurs.

But that’s not what they were feeling Sunday night.

Kawhi Leonard becomes youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic

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.

Tiago Splitter blocks Dwyane Wade at the rim. Pretty much sums up Game 5 (VIDEO)

Dwyane Wade

SAN ANTONIO — After a hot start, Miami’s offense pretty much evolved into isolations and not much ball or player movement in the second half. Which made them very easy to guard. Which is why they were down 19 after three quarters.

When they did attack and make plays, things like this happened — Tiago Splitter just shut down Dwyane Wade at the rim.

That play pretty much sums up Game 5 for the Heat offense.

Manu Ginobili with poster dunk on Chris Bosh (VIDEO)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five

SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili is trying to steal some of the headlines in Argentina from Messi today.

Ginobili was big part of the Spurs comeback from being down 14 early to lead by 6 at half. Manu did that with a personal 6-0 run at one point, on his way to 14 points at the half.

And he had this signature play of the game so far — the guy known for crafty, smart plays just powers through for the dunk over Chris Bosh.

“The last time I tried I got blocked by Caron Butler against OKC badly, and I was made fun of by my teammates in a rough way,” Ginobili said after the game. “They actually made me promise that I wasn’t going to try that again, and I said, yes, I won’t try that again.”

He did do it again, and it was spectacular.

Watch it from another angle.