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Quiet man speaks loudly
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
Miami, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The quiet ones, they're the ones who always sneak up on you.
By all accounts, Kawhi Leonard may just be the quietest professional athlete in existence. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once joked that Leonard never spoke to him.
After a talking to from the San Antonio elders - Popovich and Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, Leonard exploded for a career-high 29 points in the Spurs' impressive Game 3 victory Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Leonard only scored 18 points in the first two games of this series, but had 16 in the first quarter of Game 3 alone. His 29 points came on just 13 shots and the performance was a revelation.
"I just was in attack mode trying to be aggressive early," said Leonard. "Just knocking down a couple shots got me going and my teammates found me. They did a good job. They just got me involved."
And Popovich's master plan was so complex.
"We wanted him to be who he's been all year," remarked Popovich. "He was just himself."
Partially true, coach, because that wasn't the Leonard the world saw in Games 1 and 2. Aside from the combined 18 points in the first two games, Leonard found himself in foul trouble in Game 2 and had trouble getting into any sort of rhythm.
"He became cautious," said Popovich. "He figured it out."
That's an understatement. Leonard aided in the most offensively impressive first quarter and first half in Finals lure.
The Spurs shot 86.7 percent in the first quarter and their 41 points was the most in a Finals quarter in six years. The 75.8 field-goal percentage in the first half, well that was a Finals record.
"I don't think we'll shoot 76 percent in a half again," noted Popovich.
See, he is a true basketball savant.
As for Leonard, a good talking to might have been all he needed.
"We talked to Kawhi," said Popovich.
"That's family business."
Luckily, Duncan was feeling a tad bit more effusive than his coach.
"We've been on him about continuing to play," said Duncan. "Foul trouble has been a problem for him in the first couple of games and it kind of took him out of his game."
The word most often used to describe Leonard's play on Tuesday, as well as that of his team's, was "aggressive." It's important to note that Leonard not only played aggressively offensively, but did so on the defensive end, the end that's caused these problems.
Leonard held LeBron James to just 22 points. Sure, James shot a robust 9- for-14, but he also committed seven turnovers, which were the most in a Finals game for the four-time league MVP.
"He had a great game at both ends of the floor," said Manu Ginobili. "It's hard to keep LeBron under 25."
It wasn't hard to see why Popovich has been so bully about Leonard. Last year's Finals was his first foray into pressure basketball and he thrived, averaging a double-double for the series against the Heat.
The head coach has spoken openly about Leonard joining the ranks of the Spurs' Big Three. Leonard was a fringe All-Star candidate this season and made the Second-Team All-Defensive.
And this maturation into stardom taking place before our eyes is made harder by Leonard's quiet demeanor. Also, it doesn't help his star status that the Spurs run almost nothing with him in mind.
"He's young," said Ginobili. "He's on a team we don't go to him every time. His potential is hard to define."
Playing in the shadow of three future Hall of Famers, playing in the shadow of one of the game's greatest coaches, and doing so while constantly contending for championships can be daunting.
Leonard will be fine as long as he stays far away from the limelight.
It's exactly where this quiet young man wants to be.
06/11 02:19:00 ET
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