SAN ANTONIO – Kawhi Leonard could have been devastated by losing last season's NBA Finals.
Instead, he vowed to get better.
Just think — the San Antonio Spurs' youngest star is only getting started. He's a champion now, with the Spurs beating the Miami Heat 104-87 on Sunday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, finishing off a 4-1 triumph. And after watching the Heat celebrate last season, Leonard was the pick as MVP of the series, accepting his award from 11-time champion Bill Russell.
When Commissioner Adam Silver announced Leonard as the MVP, he was mobbed by his teammates and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich roared with laughter, knowing Leonard would have to do what he hates most — talk about himself.
"Right now, it's just surreal to me," Leonard said. "I have a great group of guys behind me."
Leonard had 22 points and 10 rebounds, his third straight big game in the series. He fouled out in the fourth quarter, which was barely noticed after the job he did helping keep LeBron James in some sort of check over the final three quarters.
When it was over — actually, a few seconds before it was over — James led a group of Heat players down to the Spurs' bench for the first round of congratulatory hugs.
The first one he gave, and rightly so, was to Leonard. It was James taking the trophy from Russell in each of the last two seasons, after Miami's titles.
This time, the night belonged to Leonard, a 22-year-old who the Spurs have long thought was the heir apparent to the Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
The Big 3 in San Antonio is still championship-good.
But their key guy now might be Leonard, who just took over this series.
"They just told me, 'Keep being aggressive,'" Leonard said.
He listened. And they won — and he became the youngest Finals MVP since Tim Duncan won it for the Spurs in 1999.