The defining Kawhi Leonard highlight in one night full of Kawhi Leonard highlights came from when he only used a…
The defining Kawhi Leonard highlight in one night full of Kawhi Leonard highlights came from when he only used a Klaw (of course). With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 113-102 victory over Philadelphia 76ers, Leonard broke a defensive rebound over Ben Simmons and sprinted against his own basket. Joel Embiid tried to keep fighting, but the Toronto star left him behind Raptor’s free throw line. When Leonard took a flight, he passed by a sweep from Jimmy Butler. He went off each of Philly’s Big Three for a single, spanking single dunk. At that moment, it appeared as if the Raptors had left Sixers behind in the Eastern Conference Authority Competition.
Toronto went on Wednesday with the best record in the East (and the best record in NBA in total). But Sixers was on his way up, going 8-2 with Butler in lineup. Philly may not have had the same quick start as Milwaukee or Toronto, but with the addition of Butler they suddenly were a star on Raps (Leonard and Kyle Lowry) and two at Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo).
Keeping elite players counts meaninglessly if one of them is Leonard, which when it’s healthy has not been one of the five biggest players in recent years. The former Spur has been good already this season ̵
1; came to the night he was on average 25.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and three assists. But it still seemed like he was not in full swing. He has missed six matches this season and has not played at both ends of a back-to-back, as Raps is playing with his troublesome hamstring.
But Leonard has shown several signs of being the premier five players late; on Wednesday he came alive. Kawhi probably played his best game since joining Toronto, finishing 36 points in 35 minutes on 24 shots, along with nine boards, five steals, a block and a help.
The Raptors as a whole fought for crime; They shot worse from the field and worse from 3 than Philly. Serge Ibaka chipped in 18 points, but no one else started out exceeding seven, including Lowry, who was 1 to 7 from 3 at night. But the biggest advantage that Raptors has is that they have a roster depth enough to match someone. They needed a big body to throw at Embiid, and sometimes Jonas Valanciunas started a season high 26 points from the bench. They also needed someone to carry the load on crimes, and Leonard came through with a superstar level.
These types of highscoring games are getting closer to Leonard in Toronto. Last week, he released 37 points on Steph Curry-less Warriors, although he had 44 minutes and an overtime to do that. And on Saturday he had 34 points in 37 minutes. Both were part of an eight-match winning streak that ended in a tight loss to Denver on Monday night.
The Raptors would have remained in the East of the East, regardless of what’s Wednesday It’s so good they’ve been this season, even with their best players in and out of the lineup. But with the profit, Raps only continued their case that they could be a cut on even the biggest challengers in the conference – and that they still have not got their thanks. Toronto has been a machine this season, and part of it may be because the majority of this team won 59 matches last season. But it has still only played 26 regular season games with Leonard as the first option and Nick Nurse, an assistant during Dwane Casey last season, as head coach. As much consistency as the raptors had come into the season, plugs in another superstar are not always a clean fit, especially considering how long DeMar DeRozan occupied Leonard’s seat in the starting line-up.
The definition of insanity, Masai Ujiri, Raptor’s president of basketball operations, said before the game on ESPN The Jump “Doing something over and over.” He repeated the phrase in an interview between the sidelines conversation during the match. Over the years, Toronto had to go into a season with the same core and hoping for something new. But Ujisi’s bold offseason trade has created another team and another existential question: How far can Leonard take these Raptors?