Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee – Tue, May 14

One more sleep till the Freak

Series preview: Will the Bucks be too rested and can the underdog Raptors continue their postseason magic? – The Athletic

Gasol’s addition shifted some things for the Raptors in a way I think was probably intended for the Philadelphia and Milwaukee matchups. Through two rounds, the biggest thing that stood out about Gasol was his individual defense against Nikola Vucevic and Joel Embiid. How much that matters against a spacier team like Milwaukee where he’ll be forced to defend a bit more in space is unclear. At times, Gasol looked slow defending the pick-and-roll and had consistently poor closeouts against Embiid, opening up driving lanes. He’s not the rebounder Jonas Valanciunas was, either.

The Raptors will need a swarming defense from Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to contain the high-flying Bucks. (Bill Streicher / USA Today Sports)
The biggest thing he’ll add to a Bucks matchup comes on offence, though. Gasol has infused the Raptors with a lot more playmaking verve, and that’s at times helped the offensive fluidity in ways they didn’t have available before. In theory, Gasol also is the type of pick-and-pop threat who can attack what Milwaukee’s defence concedes: the above-the-break 3-point shot to non-elite shooters.

Unfortunately, Gasol has been quite gun-shy in the postseason, to the extent that Philadelphia wasn’t too worried about him out there and never really paid for it. Gasol’s passing also didn’t really make the 76ers hesitate to send aggressive traps at Leonard, who is sometimes a beat slow passing out of those to a release valve like Gasol, anyway.

I want to talk more about the idea of trapping and whether the Bucks may employ it. As I have observed it, Mike Budenholzer likes to stick to a defensive system and isn’t particularly eager to change it based on matchups. I know they’ve switched a bit more in the playoffs as the situation called. The regular season series and their general approach, though, to me suggests that they’ll probably stick Khris Middleton on Leonard and live with that matchup one-on-one as long as they can, maybe showing soft hedges or occasional blitzes but largely sticking to the base defence.

Would you say that assumption heading into Game 1, at least, is accurate?

And I should probably fire back the question about how Gasol has changed the Raptors: How have the Bucks changed since the deadline? Mirotic is a known commodity; Connaughton looks great; George Hill has really come on, and so on. Are the Bucks a tougher matchup for Toronto now than they were in January?

Leonard can’t be Raptors’ sole offensive weapon in Conference Finals –

“He did a great job with [carrying the load] because offensively we didn’t have it going tonight,” said Danny Green who is shooting 36.3 per cent from three in the playoffs after connecting on 45.5 per cent in the regular season, the second-best high-volume total in the NBA and a career-high for the 10-year veteran. “We did well defensively, rebounding, we boxed out, did the little things well like we wanted to. Didn’t shoot it well, offensively we couldn’t get the pace we wanted or the open looks. He carried that load for us on that end of the floor and we needed him to.”

But there can be too much of a good thing. It’s easy to forget that being a high-usage, volume scorer is a relatively new phenomenon for Leonard, who broke into the NBA as a defensive specialist and had to develop himself into a spot-up three-point shooter after being a post player in college. His first season with a usage rate over 30 per cent – the threshold for elite scorers in the NBA – was only two years ago, and don’t forget he only played nine games last season. He’s learning on the fly.

Talk to members of the Raptors staff and they’ll tell you: Leonard is still figuring things out. His next step will be to become a more instinctive playmaker. Of the 14 players in the NBA this season with a usage rate of 30 per cent or greater, Leonard was the least likely playmaker – his assist percentage of 16.4 was the lowest, trailing even Joel Embiid, the Sixers big centre who was 18.4 per cent. James Harden, the ball-dominant star with the Houston Rockets had an assist percentage of 39.5.

It’s not uncommon for elite scorers to use the early part of a game to feel out the defence and look for chances to get their teammates involved early, knowing that if they exist as options in the mind of the defence he’ll benefit, and also confident that they can get their looks at will. So why not help others gain their confidence?

That wasn’t how Leonard came out in Game 7 as a sequence of plays late in the first quarter shows he was thinking score first and second, pass only after other options dried up.

Kawhi’s Buzzer-Beater Might Be Felt Around The League | FiveThirtyEight

The attempt had no business going in, with Leonard completely off-balance, falling far to his right in the corner as he let the ball go. He said he lofted the shot as high as he could to get it over the outstretched arm of center Joel Embiid, who contested the jumper. When the shot fell through, the usually stoic Leonard was shouting and ecstatic, while Embiid, generally loud and brash, was reduced to tears after playing through various illnesses this series just to come up short.

Recency bias might lead some to say this shot was more impressive than the 37-footer that Damian Lillard knocked in to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder. It almost certainly wasn’t.

Leonard’s shot had a high degree of difficulty because of the Embiid contest, but it was still a long 2-pointer from the corner. Second Spectrum, which tracks a shot’s probability,2 gave Leonard’s try a 32.1 percent chance of going down. By contrast, Second Spectrum data suggests that the average player would hit Lillard’s buzzer-beating attempt only 12.6 percent of the time.

But there’s an argument to be made that Leonard’s shot could end up affecting the league more, at least in the near future. For one, reports say that Sixers coach Brett Brown’s job could potentially be on the line now as a result of the series loss. That, on the surface, seems utterly ridiculous given how close the Sixers were to advancing. Philadelphia’s starters got only 10 regular-season games together and pieced together good net ratings against the Raptors in this latest series. The real problem with the club — which went all-in this season with two huge midseason trades — is its lack of depth.3
But Leonard’s game-winner also has to make a club like the Clippers — a team flush with cap space that is fully expected to pursue Kawhi this summer in free agency — wince. By no means would a single shot kill Los Angeles’s chance of making a pitch to Leonard, but conventional wisdom would suggest that the further the Raptors go in the playoffs, the more likely they’ll be able to persuade Leonard to stay north of the border. (But truthfully, no one knows what will motivate Leonard most. After all, he wanted out of a competitive San Antonio team.)

The next series, the Eastern Conference finals against the Bucks, will present even tougher questions for Leonard and the Raptors because of Milwaukee’s athleticism. MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo might be more equipped to guard Kawhi than anyone in the NBA. But on at least one night — a night that seemed to finally squash the Raptors’ postseasons anxieties for good — Leonard and his team could bask in the glow of a historic shot that found its way in after four of the friendliest bounces off the rim that you’ll ever see.

Kawhi Leonard was worth it to the Toronto Raptors, even if he leaves –

t’s true that the Raptors under DeRozan and Lowry also made the Eastern Conference finals. That incredible shot by Leonard — one that will anchor every Raptors hype video for the near and longterm future, barring a sequel in the next round — aside, Toronto hasn’t actually accomplished anything more than the last version of the team.

Yet thanks to where the Raptors are now, even if a familiar place, the bet on Leonard feels justified. It feels as though the way Toronto got to this point — against a worthy foe in an ultra-close series, with a Raptors’ hero making one of the greatest shots of the millennium — makes whatever happens in July acceptable.

Of course, the Raptors would love for that shot to cement mutual and long-lasting love between Leonard and the people of Toronto. Maybe it will. Maybe Leonard loves warm weather and Doc Rivers a little bit more. We’ll see. But even if Toronto ends up back in the lottery next season because Leonard has fled, for this moment — this rare moment that so few NBA fans experience — it will have been worth it.

These fleeting moments of unbridled joy and unfathomable hope are why anyone gives so much of themselves to be a fan. You stick through the painful losses and the memes and the jokes and the daggers for moments like this. You risk getting burned for that rare opportunity to explode with happiness. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for what Toronto experienced Sunday evening.

Trading for Leonard with no guarantees for next season made the Raptors more vulnerable than ever. At least the DeRozan and Lowry duo for sure wanted to be in Toronto. But the vulnerability created by Leonard’s uncertain future and Raptors fans’ belief in him made Sunday more special. You can’t win big without risking a little. The Raptors did that by betting they could bring Leonard back into the spotlight. It worked.

Now we see if it’s enough to get the Raptors somewhere they’ve never been before: the NBA Finals.

Raptors Over Everything Podcast: The Significance Of The Bounce – Yahoo

On this week’s episode, a flu-ridden Vivek Jacob joins the show to revisit all the ramifications of Kawhi Leonard’s shot in Game 7.

  • Emotions leading up to the game
  • The pivotal third quarter
  • Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka stepping up
  • Kawhi Leonard taking over
  • Scenes from post game
  • What this win meant to Leonard, Lowry, Ibaka, Masai Ujiri and Marc Gasol
  • Tying it back to Vince Carter’s miss in 2001

Milwaukee Bucks: Depth offers crucial advantage against Toronto Raptors – Behind the Bucks Pass

The Bucks own easily the most productive bench remaining in the playoffs, while the Raptors get less out of their bench than any of the final four teams. Even to view the Raptors’ bench contributions in a 16-team context reveals their 21.6 points per game to be the second worst mark of all playoff teams.

Adjusting production per 100 possessions, Milwaukee’s bench still has a clear advantage over Toronto’s in terms of points (45.4-36.8), rebounds (24.9-19.9), and assists (10.6-8.7), while shooting efficiency also leans heavily in Milwaukee’s favor (48.1-38.9 FG%, 36.0-25.8 3PT%).

For the Raptors, only Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell, who logged a DNP in Game 7, boast positive playoff net ratings among non-starters. On the Bucks’ side of things, Mirotic, Hill, Connaughton, Ilyasova and Brown are not only all positives by comparison, but they can all lay claim to a net rating of greater than 10.

Of course, while the bench is one of the most obvious ways where depth will factor into this series, it also does extend into the reliability of the teams’ respective starting groups.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard represent two bastions of consistency who seem almost guaranteed to deliver team-leading performances, but the question of what kind of support comes behind them could prove to be a turning point in the series.

Kyle Lowry continues to make winning plays that will keep his defenders loudly proclaiming just how positive his plus/minus is, but the reality is his team would win a lot more easily if he was remotely reliable when it came to shooting and scoring. An average of 13.1 points on 40.2 percent shooting against the Sixers doesn’t exactly point to major improvements being on the horizon considering how much he’s struggled against Bledsoe’s defense this season.

Pascal Siakam may well be Toronto’s second best and most reliable player at this point, but how he holds up under constant attention from Antetokounmpo certainly remains to be seen.

Milwaukee’s tendency to drop has certainly benefited Serge Ibaka in the past, but unless he has a scorching series, Danny Green and Marc Gasol will almost certainly be required to deliver more than their eight point per game postseason averages so far.

On the Bucks’ side of the equation, Middleton and Bledsoe can be prone to their own bouts of inconsistency, yet in Brogdon, Mirotic, Hill and Lopez, they are not short of players capable of turning the screw if needed.

Milwaukee Bucks: Revisiting 2017 playoff series with Toronto Raptors – Behind the Bucks Pass

As it turns out, the Raptors’ own playoff run would end in humiliation a round later as their rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who they met in the East Conference Finals the previous year, ended in a four-game sweep that was determined by a 62-point differential.

It may only be two seasons since both teams last met in the playoffs, but the roster composition and overall makeup for the Bucks, as well as the Raptors, couldn’t be more different, save for key exceptions.

While the Bucks of two years ago don’t bear a passing resemblance to their 60-win selves from this year, the one omission in that is their superstar and leading MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The then-22-year-old’s All-Star breakout season continued into the playoffs where he averaged 24 points on .536/.400/.543 shooting splits, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.2 steals for the series and his herculean 46-and-a-half minute performance in Game 6 provided a defining image of how dependent the squad’s success was on its young star.

What informed that was the key injuries the Bucks endured through that year. Jabari Parker was lost to a torn ACL for the second time in three years and while he made his return from a torn hamstring tear near the beginning of February, Khris Middleton was notably less than 100 percent throughout the series after having dealt with a severe strep throat, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe detailed in his profile on the All-Star swingman earlier this year.

Now only four players from that series are still on the Bucks’ roster heading into the Conference Finals between Antetokounmpo and Middleton as well as the returning Malcolm Brogdon and reserve wing Tony Snell. And obviously the biggest difference comes on the bench as it’s been Mike Budenholzer who has been able to unlock the potential of a perennially promising Bucks team in numerous ways that his predecessor, Jason Kidd, simply could not.

The Raptors, on the other hand, have undergone a radical transformation in hopes of advancing to the Finals for the first time in franchise history and shedding their storied playoff shortcomings in the process. And that obviously starts with the blockbuster acquisition of Leonard from last summer, who was acquired, along with Danny Green, in exchange for their franchise scoring leader in DeMar DeRozan.

As if his game winner last night wasn’t proof, Leonard’s stewardship of the Raptors gives them a superstar cache and a proven playoff difference maker that DeRozan struggled to provide year after year after year.

Kawhi Leonard changed the narrative for the Raptors – Yahoo

It’s not just that Leonard pushed the Raptors into the Eastern Conference finals, where they will be underdogs against the juggernaut Milwaukee Bucks. The significance of that basket goes beyond the course of these playoffs, or whether or not that moment will sway Leonard’s decision this offseason. It’s far bigger than that.

Leonard’s shot was an act of exorcism for a franchise that built an entire identity around being loveable losers. Simply put, this was uncharted territory for the Raptors, who mostly adhere to Murphy’s Law in the postseason. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, as in Vince Carter would attend graduation on the day of Game 7, Jonas Valanciunas would miss three point-blank tip-ins, J.R. Smith would thoroughly outperform DeMar DeRozan, 36-year-old Paul Pierce would come out of nowhere for a game-saving block, and James would do everything from hitting game-winners at impossible angles to sipping beer court side.

According to Raptors convention, Leonard’s jumper was not only supposed to rim out, it should have caromed across the court and swished through the other net. So when the ball bounced four times before mercifully dropping in, the first reaction in Scotiabank Arena was disbelief. Something finally broke right for the Raptors, and it took everyone a split second to shake free from their cynicism. There was such an outpouring of relief in the building that even Ujiri himself was reduced to tears, because this was exactly what he envisioned when he made the trade. He wanted to make fans believe again, and it worked.

The funny thing is that Leonard wasn’t even aware of what he had achieved. To him, this was just a new experience, and he’s just happy to extend this season into the next round. Leonard was outright asked before the playoff started if the Raptors were (in so many words) cursed, and his deadpan response was, “what hump?” The idea that this franchise was always destined to fail in new and more embarrassing ways was, in Leonard’s opinion, ridiculous.

He was right, and the fans were wrong. There is reason to believe in the Raptors, and Leonard is it. No matter what happens for the remainder of this postseason, whether he stays in Toronto or goes west to his family, Raptors fans will always have Game 7. Tomorrow and for years to come, children across the city will be recreating that moment in gym classes, while parents will call “Kawhi” before swishing balls of paper into the recycling bin. And to all it will summon the same giddiness.

It will be remembered as the inflection point when Raptors cynicism officially died out. With one incredible shot, Leonard changed the narrative of an entire franchise.

The legacy of Kawhi’s Game 7 thriller – Video – TSN

It usually takes a long time to re-write history. But in the Raptors’ case they only needed 4.2 seconds on Sunday night, and one of the greatest, most nerve-racking buzzer-beaters of all-time. Bruce Arthur has more.

Kawhi Legend, Greek Freak front and centre in Raptors-Bucks Eastern Conference final | The Star

Indeed, Milwaukee, the only team to reach 60 wins, beat Toronto three out of four times this season — two of three meetings with both Leonard and Antetokounmpo in the lineup. Now, regular-season matchups should always be viewed with multiple grains of salt when the playoffs arrive. In this case, given the teams haven’t faced each other in more than three months — and given that the Raptors changed their squad drastically in the interim, acquiring starting centre Marc Gasol at the trade deadline — that’s particularly true. The Freak had his way against the Raptors, averaging 27 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 59 per cent from the field; Leonard averaged 22 points and eight rebounds on 43 per cent field-goal accuracy.

And speaking of freight trains in transition — Antetokounmpo had 10 dunks in three games against Toronto. No opponent dunked on them more often this season.

Which is not to say the Raptors won’t be able to stop that kind of domination beginning Wednesday. When the Raptors game-planned against the Bucks during the regular season, they mostly used Pascal Siakam as the primary defender on Milwaukee’s best player. Siakam guarded Antetokounmpo on 93 possessions in those three games; Leonard was on him for 31 possessions.

But given Leonard’s status as a go-to stopper — witness his brilliant Game 7 work holding Jimmy Butler to 16 points on 14 shots — it’s more than possible he’ll be tasked with guarding Antetokounmpo at key moments. And vice versa. The Bucks rarely used Antetokounmpo on Leonard during the regular season — a total of 12 possessions in three games, according to — preferring six-foot-eight all-star Khris Middleton as Leonard’s primary defender. Even back in October, as the season was in its infancy and an initial Bucks-Raptors matchup had yet to take place, Nurse was acknowledging the hankering to see the marquee players marking each other.

“I think it’s intriguing in general just because I think they’re both going to want to go at each other a little bit — guard each other and go at each other,” Nurse said of Leonard and Antetokounmpo back in the season’s first month. “We don’t want it to be a personal battle. But I’m assuming there’s going to be a little personal-ness going on between ’em, right? They’re both talked about as, ‘Who’s the better player, the best player in the East? They’re both in MVP talks now, I think.”

As for the MVP talks, the 27-year-old Leonard’s load-management plan, which limited him to 60 regular-season games, likely took him out of serious contention for the award, even though the 24-year-old Antetokounmpo played just 69 games thanks to a variety of injuries. Still, as much as the Bucks are a stellar 8-1 in the playoffs and will be coming off a full week of rest having dispatched the Boston Celtics in five games on Wednesday, Milwaukee hasn’t faced an opponent as formidable as Toronto. And Milwaukee’s roster is dotted with regulars who’ve never come this far before. This is Antetokounmpo’s first time out of the first round. The only player on Milwaukee’s roster with a championship ring is Pau Gasol, the brother of Marc, who’s out for the rest of the playoffs after foot surgery.

Previewing the Bucks-Raptors Eastern Conference Finals showdown – OnMilwaukee

he defensive matchups in this series will be telling, particularly as head coaches Mike Budenholzer and Nick Nurse attempt to move their star pieces around the chessboard. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Antetokounmpo has a chance to capture the award this summer. How much will they guard each other? Antetokounmpo certainly has a size advantage on the Raptors 6-foot-7 forward, but Leonard’s 7-foot-3 wingspan can cause more problems than most for the Freak. As Mike Zavagno reported, Leonard did well in limited possessions against Giannis in the regular season.

My guess is Khris Middleton will start on Kawhi with Toronto’s third-year wing Pascal Siakam guarding Giannis. Middleton held his own against Leonard this year, and the Bucks prefer to use Antetokounmpo as an off-ball rim protector anyways. Siakam is 6-foot-9 with his own 7-foot-3 wingspan and has developed into one of the league’s nastiest defensive presences, though Antetokounmpo did torch him in the regular season.

Among the starting lineups, the defensive matchups likely set up as Eric Bledsoe vs. Kyle Lowry, Malcolm Brogdon vs. Danny Green, Middleton vs. Leonard, Antetokounmpo vs. Siakam, and Brook Lopez vs. Marc Gasol. Still, don’t be surprised to see Leonard slide over to guard Giannis as soon as Antetokounmpo gets rolling, or Giannis shift to Leonard for a few positions to spell Middleton.

Backup big man Serge Ibaka could also soak up a few minutes against Antetokounmpo, though Giannis will likely be slobbering at any opportunity to take him off the dribble. The lanky OG Anunoby would be a perfect Giannis antedote in theory, but the 21-year-old has yet to play since undergoing an emergency appendectomy in mid-April. His status for this series is unknown.

The Raptors’ Defense Was Outrageous In The Clutch – Deadspin

Their next trip down the floor, the Sixers went to their deadliest weapon, the Embiid-Redick handoff, but Lowry stayed glued to Redick as he tore around the screen, and then the entire team made tidy rotations to plug every gap that emerged. This is basically the whole promise of this Toronto team distilled into one possession:

The next trip down the floor three different Raptors were tasked with keeping Jim Butt contained, and they all acquitted themselves well, bleeding the clock out. Special credit goes to Marc Gasol, who had to dance with him on the perimeter for five dicey seconds. Gasol’s length scared Jimmy out of a shot even after a reasonably successful pump-fake, then got a chunk of his late-clock heave:

The next trip down the floor Lowry again refused to let an Embiid screen shear him off Redick, and the Raptors crammed the Sixers into a doomed two-man game way out by the hash mark. A terrifyingly huge trap by Pascal Siakam and Gasol allowed Lowry to pounce on the lazy pass and set up a bucket on the other end:

One made free throw later, down three, the Sixers secured exactly the switch they wanted and finally (finally!) set up Embiid in the post. Kyle Lowry embraces the post mismatch more than any other point guard in this league, and he can draw on the powers of an all-time rump, but still—it’s Joel Embiid. Lowry’s at a full foot disadvantage. Not only did he hold his ground, he even poked it out of the giant’s hands. If the Raptors recover that ball, it’s the single greatest play of his life.

Either way, it was pretty impressive. Free throws were made, the game was tied; we all know how it ended. The Raptors will continue to struggle to find buckets against the Milwaukee defense, which has been even stingier than theirs in the postseason. But they at least have some credible bodies to throw at Giannis, and a quick-thinking team defense that can respond to all the chaos he creates.

Kawhi Leonard’s game winner gives Raptors reason to believe |

The entire postseason has been a reminder that Kawhi has a real claim as the best basketball player alive. He’s second behind only Kevin Durant in postseason scoring, and when called upon to short-circuit an opponent, his defense remains as disruptive as anyone in the NBA. On offense, he finished the first two rounds of the playoffs with an obscene 67.8% True Shooting Percentage, and he made it look routine. Where players like KD, Steph Curry, and James Harden make a living on tough shots, Kawhi uses his strength to create space, squares his shoulders, and makes his jumpers look easy. He’s as clinical on the perimeter as Tim Duncan was once in the post.

Asked to join the internet’s ongoing debate between Durant and Leonard, Toronto point guard Fred VanVleet said Sunday, “Kawhi.” Asked to explain his pick, VanVleet smirked and said, “Because he’s my friend.” Then he added: “Honestly, I don’t really care. If you’re in the discussion, you’re doing something right. He’s up there with the best of ’em, and at that point it’s splitting hairs.”

Green played in San Antonio, came to Toronto in the Kawhi trade, and has been there for Leonard’s entire career. “Nobody saw this coming,” he said after Game 7. “They saw a guy with big hands, wide shoulders, a defensive threat, could be a monster. They did not see the explosiveness on the offensive end. He’s been an MVP candidate the last couple years he’s been on the floor. I remember him coming in as a rookie and thinking, ‘[The Spurs] traded George Hill for this guy?’ And they loved George. I’m like, ‘He’s pretty good, he’s decent, but I don’t see it.’ But he got better each year, man. Amazing player.”

As for the future, Leonard remains an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s spent the entire year declining interview requests and he hasn’t committed to any long-term plans. All we know for certain is that he’s from Los Angeles, he recently bought a house in San Diego, and among several free–agent suitors certain to make calls in July, the Lakers and Clippers will be at the front of the line.

The Raptors have said that he’s getting more comfortable as the year unfolds, but we’re talking about the most inscrutable star in the NBA. Everyone is wary of drawing definitive conclusions, and that’s before considering that Raptors like Green and Gasol will have free agency decisions as well. “You kind of segment it a little bit in your brain,” Toronto GM Bobby Webster says. “We all do. You’re trying to be intensely focused on the moment and evaluate what’s going on game-to-game. And then you have your moments to think about, ‘OK where is this team going?’ I will say, we’ve known the situation since we did the deal for Kawhi. It’s a reality we’ve lived with for nine months.”

LA Clippers: Kawhi’s uncle seen celebrating with Toronto brass – Clipperholics

On the surface, this is simply a group of guys who are all heavily invested in Leonard’s success for a multitude of differing reasons. However, it can’t be ignored that from purely an LA Clippers fan’s standpoint, this doesn’t exactly inspire hope.

Kawhi’s uncle is a notoriously influential figure in his life, and was rumored to be one of the key people involved in Leonard’s decision to force his way out of San Antonio. A father figure of sorts, by whom Leonard is closely advised. So to see him being chummy with higher-ups in the Raptors organization certainly doesn’t make you feel better about their chances of signing him, come July 1st.

Now, context is certainly important. I mean, it was one of the more incredible things you’ll ever see in sports, let alone the NBA Playoffs. I’d be high-fiving and hugging people I’d never even met before after witnessing something like that. The point being, we should probably take any reactions after such an emotional moment with the appropriate grain of salt.

A star among stars: Leonard gives Raptors something they’ve never had before |

Leonard’s jumper had seemingly abandoned him, and he entered the fourth quarter shooting 10-of-30 from the field. But he proceeded to score 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the final frame, and he ended the series by single-handedly outscoring the Sixers 13-12 over the final 6:11.

“I knew it was Game 7, and I didn’t want to leave any shots in my mind,” Leonard said of his sky-high usage. “This could’ve been my last game of the season, and I would’ve had to wait five months to put another shot up in a game, so I was going to leave it all out on the floor tonight and not worry about makes or misses.”

When the game-winner finally fell – every bounce off the rim that preceded it exorcising another Raptors demon of the past – the usually sedate Leonard let out a primal scream so loud you’d swear you could’ve heard it over the 20,000 roaring Canadians he had just sent into a frenzy.

“I’m a guy that acts like I’ve been there before, so probably the last time you’ve seen me scream is when we won (the NBA championship in San Antonio),” Leonard said of his emotional explosion. “Whenever it’s a moment that I haven’t really experienced, I try to give and show some emotion, and let it just come out.”

These are Leonard’s Raptors now, and fans have an all-time moment to remember that by. No free-agent decision, or even the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, can take that from them.

To Top