Spurs rookie gets trial by Durant’s fire

By Jeff McDonald

OKLAHOMA CITY — During a timeout in the second half Sunday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich turned to his rookie small forward and uttered words that might have made a lesser man gulp.

“I told him, ‘You’re now going to guard the leading scorer in the league,’” Popovich said. “ ‘And you’re not coming out of the game.’ ”

Offered the assignment of defending Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, with no help and no quarter, Kawhi Leonard did not blink. For a 20-year-old learning the NBA on the fly, that was success enough.

Durant, the NBA’s two-time defending scoring champion, finished with 21 points in 28 minutes of a 108-96 Thunder romp, but Leonard at least made the matchup moderately interesting. Durant made five of his nine shots, and did the bulk of his damage from the foul line, where he was 10 for 10.

“I just tried to take it as a challenge,” said Leonard, who at this time last year was defending players in the Mountain West Conference. “You know he’s going to get his points. You just hope to make it tough on him.”

With the game already out of hand, there was little risk in allowing Leonard a trial by fire.

“We wanted him to get experience and see what it was like,” Popovich said.

Leonard didn’t win the battle with Durant, but neither did he give in.

His finest moment came during a first-half stint against Durant, when he forced his Oklahoma City adversary into a trap and a turnover.

Durant had his moments in the matchup as well. One came late in the third quarter, when he buried a 20-footer in Leonard’s face.

“He did a good job,” Popovich said of Leonard. “It didn’t mean Kevin didn’t score, but it was fun to watch.”

WOOF, WOOF: Spurs center DeJuan Blair and his Oklahoma City counterpart, Kendrick Perkins, were issued technical fouls after a dust-up in the second quarter.

“He was just barking, making something out of nothing,” Blair said. “So I barked back.”

For Perkins, whose hot-headedness has become the stuff of NBA legend, it was his third technical already in the young season. It was Blair’s first.

Since each technical comes with an automatic $2,000 fine, Blair said he planned to appeal his foul.

KNEED REST: Blair and point guard Tony Parker left the game in the second half after each taking a knee to the back of the leg.

Both were sore and bruised but could have played had the game still been in reach. Barring a setback, both said they would be ready for Tuesday’s game at Milwaukee.

SEEING DOUBLE: Afforded a season-high 34 minutes, six seconds of playing time, Leonard turned in the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Without the benefit of a normal summer indoctrination or full training camp, Leonard says he is becoming more comfortable with the Spurs’ system by the day.

“Every game is a learning experience for me,” Leonard said. “I’m just trying to listen to what the coaches tell me and learn from each game.”

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