Title: As Raptors and 76ers embroil in one of the tensest games imaginable, Kawhi Leonard reaches rarefied clutch status
Date: May 5, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic, I wrote about an intense Game 4 between the Raptors and 76ers and tried to contextualize the tension and Kawhi Leonard’s clutch play statistically.
Just shy of eight minutes into the first quarter Sunday, Kawhi Leonard made a pair of free throws to put the Raptors up 22-11.
The Raptors entered down two games to one against the Philadelphia 76ers, in desperate need of a victory to resecure home-court advantage. Everyone knows what the track record of NBA teams down 3-1 in a series is, and the Raptors are often the team on the wrong end of memes, not the history-making side. With Pascal Siakam visibly hobbled by a calf contusion that nearly kept him out of the game and the team’s depth in serious question all series, the Raptors could not have hoped for a better start.
An 11-point lead is early control. It’s a reset on any dwindling confidence after a disastrous Game 3 loss. It’s a cushion for error and insulation from the ebbs and flows that would surely follow.
Maybe ebbs and flows is a poor descriptor. The game became still water. Basketball being a game of runs — no Joel Embiid illness joke intended — went out the window, this particular game devolving into two runners standing up at the blocks, leaning forcefully into each other and refusing to move. It would, at times, resemble a wrestling match stuck in a collar-and-elbow stalemate, points occasionally awarded for a gritty reversal but never for a near fall. It would, to lean on a cliche that’s become cliche for a reason, be a shining example of an outdated vision of “playoff basketball,” a hard-hitting, physical, grind-it-out affair.
That 11-point lead would be the last of its kind.