“Just probably at the end of the game,” Leonard said afterward, when asked when he knew he was going to have a career night. “Not until it was finished.
“I try to stay in the moment, and keep competing every possession and not really worry about myself, but just trying to get a team win.”
Leonard finished the game with 45 points on 16-for-22 shooting from the field and 13-for-17 shooting from the foul line. In the second half, not only did he rarely miss from the field, he also went 10-for-14 from the foul line, both making and taking more free throws than the Jazz did as a team.
“I felt like in that third quarter when he went to the line — however many times he went to the line — he got into a rhythm there, and continued to be more aggressive,” said Jae Crowder, who finished with a career-high 30 points of his own to lead the Jazz. “From there, it was an uphill battle defending him.”
The Jazz did really try everything: they had Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Jae Crowder and Dante Exum try their hand at guarding him, and he still scored regardless for layups and free throws. Maybe the only thing that really worked to stop Kawhi was what they did at the end of the game, which was just straight double-teaming him. Except that strategy, as it usually does, had consequences in open shots for teammates, and missed defensive rebounds from the Jazz just being so far away from the rim.
“He scored in the post, he scored in isolations, he scored at the rim over Rudy,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “We eventually started hitting him at half court. The biggest thing was that we sent him to the line. … Maybe we should have blitzed him sooner.”
But really, this was about Kawhi stepping up when his team needed him, in the wake of Kyle Lowry’s injury. He’s a top-5 NBA player.
As Utah boasts a top-five defensive rating as well as a top-five scoring defence, the results on the defensive end were somewhat uncharacteristic for the Jazz.
Toronto finished the night scoring 122 points on 45-for-82 shooting (54.8 percent) from the field and saw two of its players record new career highs in scoring. On one hand, Utah had a number of defensive lapses that allowed Toronto to get to good spots and get comfortable. On the other hand, the Raptors were able to connect on some pretty difficult shots throughout the night.
It’s been nearly a month since the Jazz (18-20) have been at .500, and the team will need to hang its hat on consistent defensive efforts in order to emerge in the playoff race in a conference that is very much unforgiving.
Kristen Ledlow and Grant Hill discuss the all-star possibilities of Pascal Siakam and what Kawhi Leonard’s return to greatness has meant to the Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard will leave Toronto at the end of the season – Marc Stein – NY Times Newsletter
Kawhi Leonard will leave Toronto to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers in July
Look for several of next summer’s major free agents — Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler and Golden State’s Klay Thompson — to stay put.
Allow me to also pass on one of the wildest predictions I’ve heard lately, from one wise insider, who thinks even DeMarcus Cousins will consider re-upping with the Warriors for one more season despite the (comparatively) minuscule raise they can offer on Cousins’ current $5.3 million salary.
The Raptors, however, know that they almost certainly have to win it all to convince Leonard to spurn a return to his native Southern California. It turns out that merely winning the LeBron-less East will be tougher than the Raptors ever imagined because of Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston and pesky Indiana.
The Clippers’ hopes of signing Kawhi away from the Raptors, as a result, feel rather real as the calendar flips. One likewise presumes that a full Toronto teardown, headlined by a Kyle Lowry trade, would soon follow if Kawhi exits.
“He’s a heck of a player, obviously,” Crowder said of Leonard. “And when he went to the line in the third quarter, he got a rhythm right there, and it made him be aggressive, his team aggressive. And then it was an uphill battle defending him.”
Indeed, the third quarter proved pivotal, in many ways.
The Jazz had a 53-51 lead at halftime, despite shooting nearly 14 percent worse from the field than the Raptors, despite making only three shots from deep, and despite allowing 15 first-half points to Leonard. It helped that 11 fouls called on the Raptors to five on the Jazz yielded a 19-5 advantage in free throws attempted.
Pascal Siakam Entrenched Atop Most Improved Player Race
Siakam’s continued improvement is a major reason the Raptors have won four of their last five games without point guard Kyle Lowry, who’s appeared in only one of the team’s past eight contests because of back soreness. There’s no timetable for his return.
Questions about whether Toronto could maintain its torrid pace while Lowry recovered in the star-dominated NBA have faded because the third-year power forward has come into his own. That was on full display Tuesday with his career-best 28 points.
Season highs: Powell put up a season-high 14 points against the Jazz, with C.J. Miles relegated to less than three minutes of play after not appearing in two of Toronto’s last three games. Siakam went 3-for-4 from three and 9-for-15 from the field on his way to a career-high 28 points. His game-high 10 rebounds beat Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors (nine each)
This and that: Leonard’ 45-point effort was the eighth-highest total by a Raptor during a regular-season game … Leonard, Siakam and Powell were the only Raptors players to score 10 or more points … VanVleet, who has started eight of the last 10 games in Kyle Lowry’s absence, missed some of the second half with a left hip contusion but returned to the court in the fourth quarter … Utah’s Jae Crowder went off for a season-high 30 points, six more than he has picked up in any other game this season.
“He’s really good. People kind of forgot the things that he’s able to do out there (because he missed most of last season due to injury),” Siakam said. “It’s just fun to watch.”
Just maybe not if you’re trying to slow him down.
“When a guy (like Leonard) gets going, it’s hard to stop him,” said Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who was held to 7-for-23 shooting.
Unable to make a shot in recent games or get a call early on, the Raptors tried something different: Eschewing the favoured three-point shot, Toronto attempted only three from beyond the arc through the game’s first 18 minutes. Meanwhile, Utah had an 18-4 free throw attempt advantage and took a 53-51 lead into the break.
Then the second half began and a completely different Toronto team emerged from the tunnel. Siakam hit consecutive three-pointers after Fred VanVleet opened with one of his own and the Raptors as a whole started to parade to the free-throw line.
In his best game yet in a Toronto uniform, the new Raptor scored 45 points on 16-of-22 shooting as the home crowd repeatedly serenaded the All-Star forward with love when he stepped to the free throw line.
“It’s great, because it means they see your hard work, and your hard work is paying off and they appreciate what you’re doing,” said Leonard more than an hour after the game had ended and he returned to the Raptors locker room to find media awaiting him after his lengthy post-game weight-training session.
“That’s why I took the challenge tonight of just staying and knowing I can make those shots and staying in my groove and just trying to win, that’s it. That’s all I’m trying to do, is just win the game.”
Pascal Siakam added 28 points as the Raptors survived a very gritty Utah team who got 30 points from Jae Crowder and 21 from Derrick Favors.
The win improves the Raptors’ record to 28-11, while also increasing the club’s their all-time record at Scotiabank Arena on New Year’s Day to 4-0.
Leonard carried the Raptors through this one, responding to a slew of non-calls in the first 24 minutes by staging a dizzying second-half takeover. His third quarter was one of his best of the season, as he scored 19 points on 7-of-7 shooting, while getting to the free-throw line eight times. Even as the Jazz double-teamed him aggressively with blitzes and traps in the fourth quarter, Leonard consistently made good decisions under considerable pressure in his best game as a Raptor.
Pascal Siakam’s contributions were critical, too, as he scored a career-high 28 in 32 minutes, shooting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Norman Powell had a quietly strong night, scoring 14 off the bench. And Danny Green continued to excel at the little things, finishing a game-high plus-16 and grabbing a massive offensive rebound in the final minute.
“We made a concerted effort to play a little faster,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “It was getting a little bogged down. And it kind of started midway through the last game. I was just like, ‘Guys, just because they score doesn’t mean we have to hang our heads and take it out and walk it up. Let’s go, man.’ And I think we did a better job of that tonight.”
The Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday afternoon that star guard Kyle Lowry underwent pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory injections in his back last week, and that he remains without a timetable for a return.
Lowry, who had already been ruled out of Tuesday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, received the injections at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York in an effort to combat the lower back soreness that has plagued him for some time now.
The Jazz game will mark the eighth time in Toronto’s last nine games that Lowry, who is averaging 14.4 points and a career-high 9.8 assists per game, will not suit up for the Raptors. The one time he did play was on Dec. 22 against the Philadelphia 76ers, when he scored 20 points to go with six rebounds and five assists in a 126-101 loss in his hometown.
After leading the Raptors to emphatic back-to-back victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors without Kawhi Leonard on Dec. 11 and 12, Lowry sat out first because of a quad injury, and the back soreness has now held him out of five straight contests.