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2017 NBA Playoffs

With Kawhi Leonard out, only Jonathon Simmons shows up for Spurs

Simmons, who spent $150 for a D-League tryout in 2013, had a team-high 22 points in Game 2 loss to Warriors

“That wasn’t my last pennies …,” said Jonathon Simmons, with a small chuckle, to a room full of reporters.

After the San Antonio Spurs’ 136-100 blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night, a reporter asked Simmons about the $150 registration fee he spent to try out for San Antonio’s D-League affiliate in 2013. Simmons, who went undrafted in 2012 after playing for two junior colleges before a one-year stint at the University of Houston, was impressive in the audition and made the team. Two years later, he made his NBA debut in 2015 with the Spurs as a 26-year-old rookie. He hasn’t left the league since.

Jonathon Simmons (No. 17) of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals May 16 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

“You know, I just used that as a way to show my face in front of some D-League scouts and just kind of figure it out from there,” Simmons, the second-year Spurs shooting guard, continued. “It wasn’t a dream just to be in the NBA. I just did that to try to build my resume so maybe something will happen overseas, who knows? But I think it was more the love for the game [that] wanted me to stick with it, wanted me to try another option, and look what happened now. I mean, just perseverance and just the will of not wanting to give up.”

The tale of Simmons’ $150 tryout, which his former D-League coach Earl Watson called the “greatest story in basketball” in early 2016, has been told countless times. But every time Simmons has a big game, the story comes up again — still as refreshing to listen to as the first time.

In Game 2, Simmons was the only San Antonio player with a big game. Filling in for Spurs All-Star Kawhi Leonard, who sat out with a sprained left ankle, Simmons started and tallied a team-high 22 points, 17 of which he delivered in the first half, while logging just 26 minutes on the night. (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich also trusted Simmons as a starter in place of the injured Leonard for Game 6 of San Antonio’s Western Conference semifinal series against the Houston Rockets on May 11; Simmons scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the floor in his team’s 114-75 series-clinching win.)

“Jon was, yeah, I don’t know if the only, but one of the very few who came to play. …,” Popovich said after the Game 2 loss to the Warriors. “At both ends of the floor he was intense, and he played to win for sure.”

At a 2016-17 salary of approximately $875,000, Simmons is the fourth-lowest-paid player on San Antonio’s roster (even behind rookie Dejounte Murray). But the 27-year-old will become a restricted free agent this summer, and regardless of whether San Antonio decides to re-sign him or let him test the market, Simmons’ heart and intensity will certainly turn those pennies into millions.

Aaron Dodson is an associate editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson, formerly of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, he was one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.