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Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is the series’ surprise after two games vs. Jazz

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San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (2) drives to the basket as Utah Jazz's Josh Howard (8) and Al Jefferson (25) defend during the first quarter of Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, May 2, 2012, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By Brian T. Smith

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 02 2012 10:44PM
Updated Aug 28, 2012 11:32PM

San Antonio • It’s hard to wow Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Sometimes it’s difficult to simply draw a smile.

But after watching his revamped San Antonio club destroy the Jazz 114-83 on Wednesday in Game 2 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series, Popovich took a moment to admire Kawhi Leonard.

The No. 15 overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft played like a proven veteran during the Spurs’ blowout. He poured in 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting during the first half, drilling two 3-pointers and alternating with fellow starter Danny Green as San Antonio’s top player. Leonard then finished with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, totaling three 3s, three rebounds and two steals in just 24 minutes and 43 seconds.

It was the type of performance normally reserved for athletes with multiple years in the league and numerous postseason appearances. Wednesday marked only the second playoff game for the former San Diego State standout — the first was Sunday — and Popovich acknowledged the player who was traded for Spurs fan favorite George Hill is quickly turning into something special.

"Kawhi is someone who, I guess it’s fair to say, surprised us. Because you don’t really know when you draft someone. … In Kawhi’s case he’s absorbed information really well," Popovich said. "He performs his role, he plays defense, he runs down the floor, and he’s got a way about him where he’s not so anxious to show us that he has every move in the world. … He’s level-headed and takes things when they come."

Leonard has stolen from the Jazz.

Spurs veteran forward Stephen Jackson came off the bench to serve as the X-Factor in Game 1. But Leonard’s been the best overall non-star through two contests. He’s averaging 11.5 points on 66.7 percent shooting, while hitting 4 of 7 3s and pulling down 2.5 rebounds per game.

And he’s doing it all as a smooth, confident 20-year-old rookie.

"He blends in with everybody else. … He plays his role and a lot of rookies can’t do that, and he’s been really good at it," Popovich said.

bsmith@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz

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