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‘Don’t poke the bear’ – Popovich admonishes Spurs fans over Leonard boos

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich criticised his own team’s fans for booing former franchise favourite Kawhi Leonard as he led the Los Angeles Clippers to a 109-102 victory over his old team.

Leonard spent the first seven seasons of his career under Popovich in San Antonio, winning the NBA Championship in 2014 before leaving for the Toronto Raptors following a disagreement over how to manage his recovery from an injury in 2018.

On Wednesday, the five-time All-Star returned to haunt his former team, finishing with a game-high 26 points as the Clippers condemned San Antonio to a 10th successive defeat.

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Leonard has become used to hostile atmospheres at Frost Bank Center since his Spurs exit, but when particularly loud jeers greeted the first of two second-quarter free throws for the 32-year-old, Popovich stepped in.

After walking over to the scorer’s table, Popovich grabbed a microphone to address the crowd, saying: “Excuse me for a second. Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play? Have a little class. That’s not who we are. Knock off the booing.”

The boos became even louder thereafter with Leonard scoring 18 of his points after Popovich’s intervention. Speaking after the game, the Spurs coach said he was keen to avoid giving Leonard further motivation.

“I think anybody that knows anything about sports knows you don’t poke the bear,” Popovich said.

“That’s all I need to say. I just told you why I did it. I gave you the answer. There’s no other questions that need to be asked.”

Leonard, however, was not fazed by the reception he received, saying after the game: “If I don’t have a Spurs jersey on, they’re probably going to boo me for the rest of my career.

“They’re [some] of the best fans in the league and they’re very competitive.

“Once I step on this basketball court out here, they show they’re going for the other side. And when I’m on the streets or going into restaurants, they show love.

“I was just in the moment trying to knock down my free throws.”

The Spurs continue to prop up the Western Conference with a 3-12 record this season, while the Clippers are in 10th at 6-7. San Antonio return to action on Friday, when they go on the road to take on the Golden State Warriors.

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