San Antonio, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Over the first two games of the 2014 NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard managed just 18 points and the Spurs were even with the Miami Heat.
After topping that total in each of the next three games and leading his team to three straight victories, Leonard was named the Finals Most Valuable Player as the Spurs secured their fifth NBA title in franchise history on Sunday.
"At the moment, I was just happy," Leonard said of his emotions after the win. "Just had faith throughout the whole game, but I didn't think at all I was about to win the MVP of the Finals."
The San Antonio small forward erupted for a career-high 29 points in the Spurs' 111-92 victory in Game 3, and posted a 20-point, 14-rebound double- double in Game 4 before donating 22 points and 10 boards in his squad's 104-87 championship-clinching triumph over the Heat in Game 5.
Leonard shot a scorching 24-of-35 from the floor over San Antonio's final three games and led the team in scoring in each contest.
"It was just up to myself to dig down deep and go through adversity," Leonard said of what spurred his turnaround.
He also played a key role at the other end of the court, serving as the primary defender on superstar LeBron James, who had claimed the Finals MVP in each of the last two seasons.
James still got his points, scoring at least 22 in each contest, but Leonard's constant pressure kept James from going off as he's done against countless defenders.
"LeBron did good in Game 3 and 4. He averaged about 30 points in the series," Leonard admitted when asked how he got ready for guarding James. "Just preparing and watching film with the team and seeing how we could stop them as a team and slow them down, that's how I prepared for the series."
The 22-year-old San Diego State product has now appeared in the Finals in two of his three NBA seasons, and seems well on his way to leading the Spurs into the future, with San Antonio's "Big Three" of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all on the wrong side of 30 years old.
Leonard, who became the youngest Finals MVP since the now 38-year-old Duncan claimed it back in 1999, credited his teammate for giving him the drive to succeed.
"Seeing him prepare every day and having that drive and will to want to win at the age he is and after winning all the championships he's won before I got here just motivated me to go even harder because I'm young, and I couldn't really do it every day," Leonard said of Duncan. "Just seeing him at that age just inspired me."
While Duncan cemented his legacy with his fifth NBA title Sunday, Leonard is just starting to build his resume.
But for Spurs fans dreading the thought of life without Duncan and the rest of the "Big Three", it appears Leonard has absorbed a wealth of knowledge from his championship-tested teammates.
And he's ready to lead the Spurs for years to come.