NBA Playoffs: Kawhi Leonard not playing like a playoff rookie

By By Ben Bolch

Los Angeles Times

Published: Wednesday, May 30 2012 11:20 p.m. MDT

San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) gestures after a scramble for a loose ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of Game 2 in their NBA basketball Western Conference finals playoff series, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — Kawhi Leonard is so advanced defensively for a rookie that he's guarding a three-time scoring champion in the playoffs.

He's also vastly improved his outside shot, lowering his release point and getting more arc on the ball.

"Now I just wish he knew our plays," San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich quipped.

Oh, right. That.

Leonard shouldn't take it personally. Getting zinged by Popovich means you're one of the guys.

And Leonard seems to be fitting in just fine with a no-frills franchise that does little besides win, win, win.

"I'm just living in the moment," he said after Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. "I have a great group of guys behind me and Coach has been great by just helping me move forward and get better."

Leonard's development continued on a national stage during San Antonio's 120-111 victory Tuesday, which gave the Spurs a 20th consecutive triumph dating back to the regular season and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Game 3 is Thursday in Oklahoma City.

The 6-foot-7 Spurs forward scored a playoff-high 18 points Tuesday on seven-for-12 shooting, including three of six from beyond the 3-point arc, to go with 10 rebounds and two blocks. It was Leonard's fifth career double-double and first in the playoffs.

The Thunder certainly couldn't tell if Leonard was having any issues with his knowledge of the playbook.

There was a nifty move for a dunk along the baseline after taking a pass from Tony Parker. There were a couple of open three-pointers in the corner.

The exclamation point came with 17 seconds left in the game. Leonard went in for a dunk in which he was hacked by James Harden, resulting in a three-point play after Leonard converted the free throw.

It was nothing new, really.

"Kawhi has been playing great all season long for us," Parker said. "Every round he's been playing great, guarding the best guy on the other team. I'm not very surprised."

Leonard averaged 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds during the regular season, becoming a first team all-rookie selection.

The 20-year-old has had his first-year hiccups as well. Popovich primarily went with veteran forward Stephen Jackson instead of Leonard in the fourth quarter of Game 1 after Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant scored eight points in the third quarter.

But Leonard, whose lengthy limbs give him the wingspan of a 7-footer, was back on the floor late in Game 2, playing 9 0x00BD> minutes of harassing defense in the fourth quarter. Durant scored only four of his 31 points in the game's final 12 minutes.

"Kawhi Leonard is a really quick learner," Popovich said. "He's got a great work ethic that's really impressive, and he has no fear. I've learned as the year went along to believe in him more and more."

"I'm just out there going to play hard and having fun, really, just living in the moment," Leonard said. "I'll probably think about it a lot after the season."

Western Conference Finals

San Antonio 2, Oklahoma City 0

Game 1: San Antonio 101, Oklahoma City 98

Game 2: San Antonio 120, Oklahoma City 111

Today: San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.

Saturday: San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 6:30 p.m.

x-Monday: Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 7 p.m.

x-Wednesday: San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.

x-June 8: Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 7 p.m.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS