San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard's 29-point performance in Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat gave his team momentum heading into Game 4.
The San Antonio Spurs hope their 111-92 Game 3 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals, which was highlighted by Kawhi Leonard's 29-point explosion, will give them much-needed momentum.
MySanAntonio.com's Dan McCarney probed deeper into Leonard's memorable Game 3 in his June 11 article:
"It was with the maturity of a 10-year veteran and the deceptively simplistic wisdom of Yogi Berra that Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard accepted full responsibility for his slow start to the Finals, averaging nine points with as many turnovers (four) as rebounds and precious little impact in the first two games.
"'I'm not going to blame anybody. I have to play a better game,' he said on Tuesday morning, hours before Game 3 at American Airlines Arena. 'I just have to be more aggressive. It's always easier to play good when you're playing well. It's just a challenge to see if I'm going to get out of it. We'll see what kind of player I am.'
"Apparently, pretty good. Leonard scored a career-high 29 points -- seven more than LeBron James, his foul-inducing tormentor in those first two meetings -- to spark a 111-92 victory that restored homecourt advantage to the Spurs.
"'I was just in attack mode, trying to be aggressive early,' Leonard said. 'I just knocked down a couple shots got me going and my teammates found me. They just got me invovled.'
"Leonard did the rest, slashing to the rim and firing away from the outside when presented even the hint of daylight. His 13 shot attempts were relatively modest, but still a team-high. He also shot seven free throws, one fewer than Tim Duncan.
"His point total were seven more than his previous playoff best, and three better than his career-high in any NBA game.
"According to Elias Sports Bureau, Leonard surpassed Lakers Hall of Famer James Worthy as the youngest player to score at least 25 points while shooting at least 75 percent (NBA.com).
"That was just the offensive end. Leonard also had two steals and two blocks while helping limit James to just 22 points -- the same amount he scored in the second half of Game 2, and nearly six points below his postseason average coming in.
"'He had a great game coming on both ends,' sixth man Manu Ginobili said. 'It's really hard to make LeBron score under 25, and scoring 30 in a Final is really hard to do. So an unbelievable game by Kawhi.
"As for Leonard, that's all it was -- just one game.
"I have to keep going and helping the team,' he said."
USA Today's Chris Chase also dug up a fact about Leonard's 29-point outburst -- he's never scored that many since his high school days:
"In the 243 games (regular season and playoffs) Leonard has played during his first three seasons in the NBA, he scored 20 points or more in 12 of them. That's less than five percent of his professional games. In his 71 games at San Diego State, Leonard went 20+ in just 13, or 18 percent of the time.
"The highest total he ever reached was 26, once in the NBA and twice at SDSU. In all, Leonard had never scored more than 26 points in a college of NBA game and only scores 20 in about 1 in 13 times on the court.
"Yet, in one of the biggest games of his young career, the springy forward from Los Angeles dropped 29 (and played excellent defense on LeBron James to boot)."
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year, told USA Today's Sam Amick on June 11 Leonard was just being himself in Game 3:
"Well, we just wanted him to be who he's been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs. I think the foul situations the first two games really he overreacted to them and became very cautious, and he doesn't play like that. He's got to be real active at both ends, and so he figured it out.
"He was just himself...That's how he's played all year long. He's got to be one of our better players on the court or we're not good enough. That's just the way it is. He's got that kind of talent where -- you know, it's the NBA Finals. You can't be just mediocre out there if you want to win a game, and everybody's got to play well, and he did that."
The 22-year-old Leonard has been averaging 13.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists in the 2013-14 NBA playoffs through June 12, per ESPN stats.
Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals will be on June 12 at Miami's American Airlines Arena with a 9:00 p.m. EST tip-off.