|San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dunks as Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers (15) trails during the first quarter of game three of the 2014 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Photo by Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.
MIAMI - This is what everyone waited for. Three games into the NBA finals, Kawhi Leonard finally unleashed the high-octane offense that got him voted to the NBA all-rookie team in 2012.
Leonard, who will turn 23 later this month, scored 16 of his 29 points in the first quarter as the San Antonio Spurs spanked the Miami Heat 111-92 to grab a 2-1 series lead.
"You can see when he gets in a groove like that, he can be special," said Spurs veteran Tim Duncan.
Leonard not only injected new life into the Spurs' 2014 championship pursuit but he made his coach Gregg Popovich look like the master motivator.
Leonard's first-quarter points total on Tuesday was just two points less than he totalled for both games one and two of the best-of-seven series.
"I was just in attack mode trying to be aggressive early. Just knocking down a couple of shots got me going," Leonard said.
Leonard averaged 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in the regular season and led his team in scoring five times.
So when he scored just nine points, two rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes during a game two loss in San Antonio, Popovich decided it was time for a hear-to-heart with the third-year player.
Asked what he told Leonard -- who struggled with foul trouble in the first two games -- Popovich would only say, "That's family business."
The first time Duncan saw Leonard play was before the start of the 2011-12 season. He was not terribly impressed.
"He came down and worked out with us. It was before the team was together. So I got an early look at him," Duncan said.
"I thought he had a lot of work to do. He wasn't shooting the ball like he does now. But Pop and the guys saw something in him and they allowed him to kind of develop and find his own way."
Duncan also felt it was time to have a talk with Leonard before Tuesday's contest.
"We have been on him about continuing his play," Duncan said. "Foul trouble has been a problem for him in the first couple of games and it took him out of his game."
Popovich said he just wanted to see the same Leonard he watched drive defences crazy during the regular season.
"He has to be one of our better players on the court or we are not good enough," Popovich said. "He has got that kind of talent. It is the NBA finals. You can't be mediocre out there if you want to win a game."
Manu Ginobili says his Spurs teammates have faith in Leonard.
"The guy is what 22, 23? He played a couple of OK games. He didn't play bad. We trust him. We knew he was going to step up," Ginobili said.
© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse