Popovich uses mic to scold home crowd as Leonard, Clippers beat Spurs
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 26 points while hearing boos that prompted San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to admonish the crowd, Paul George added 24 and the Los Angeles Clippers beat Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs 109-102 on Wednesday night.
Wembanyama, the No. 1 overall draft pick, had 22 points and 14 rebounds for the Spurs, whose fans were more focused on jeering one of their former stars.
Fans booed as Leonard — who played for San Antonio from 2011-18 before he was traded at his request to Toronto — stood at the free-throw line following a foul by Spurs forward Keldon Johnson with 3:08 remaining in the first half. Popovich then walked over, grabbed the public address microphone and chastised the crowd at the Frost Bank Center.
“Excuse me for a second,” Popovich said, silencing the crowd. “Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play? Have a little class. It’s not who we are. Knock off the booing.”
After an initial stunned silence, the crowd began booing even louder. Leonard faced a cascade of more vociferous jeers but made both free throws.
“I was just in the moment, trying to knock down my free throws,” Leonard said.
Leonard finished 10 for 17 from the field and had four rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Leonard, who was named NBA Finals MVP when the Spurs won their last title in 2014, said he does not harbor any ill feelings toward the team’s fans.
“If I don’t have a Spurs jersey on, they are probably going to boo me for the rest of my career,” Leonard said. “It is what it is. They are one of the best fans in the league and they are very competitive. Once I stand on this basketball court out here, they are going to show that they are going for the other side. When I’m on the streets or going into a restaurant, they show love. It is what it is.”
When asked why he addressed the crowd, Popovich said it was obvious.
“Well, I think anybody that knows anything about sports, you don’t poke the bear,” Popovich said.
When asked if he meant he didn’t want the booing to motivate Leonard, Popovich repeated his answer.
“I spoke English,” Popovich said. “I just told you, anybody that knows anything about sports knows you don’t poke the bear. That’s my answer.”
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue agreed, sort of.
“I’m rolling with whatever Pop does,” Lue said of the league’s all-time winningest coach. “I’m rolling with it.”
Despite Popovich's plea, the booing continued each time Leonard touched the ball and extended to James Harden and other Clippers players. Los Angeles held on to win its seventh straight over the Spurs.
Harden scored 16 points as the Clippers won their third straight game after dropping their first five games with the All-Star guard in their lineup since acquiring him from Philadelphia on Oct. 31.
Popovich’s words appeared to energize his team. After trailing by 17 points in the second quarter, San Antonio closed within 52-48 with a minute remaining in the first half.
The Spurs continued the rally to open the third quarter. Johnson’s 3-pointer cut the Clippers’ lead to 64-62 with 7:13 remaining.
The Clippers responded with an 18-2 run to regain control.
“They made some tough 3s,” Lue said. “Vic (Wembanyama) made a couple of big shots. At the end of the game, when you’re scrambling like that, you’ve got to be locked in to what we’re doing. You can’t have miscommunications on the defensive end. When you have a 17-, 18-point lead (and losing it), everybody looks at the offense, but if you get stops, you win by 18.”
The Clippers challenged Wembanyama from the opening tip with Ivica Zubac dropping in a floater off the glass.
The 7-foot-3 Wembanyama responded, finishing with three blocked shots.
Clippers: Host New Orleans on Friday.
Spurs: At Golden State on Friday.
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