Title: ‘I’m not afraid of the moment. I enjoy it’: Kawhi Leonard brings Raptors within one game of NBA Finals
Date: May 23, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I wrote about Kawhi Leonard’s excellence as a scorer, playmaker, and defender, and how he’s led the Raptors within a game of the finals.
It would be difficult, at this point, for Kawhi Leonard to hit a bigger shot than his Game 7 game-winner against the Philadelphia 76ers. And so he set out Thursday to see if he could top it with a combination of shots that may hold even more historic significance when this Raptors run is over.
It was the fourth quarter and the Raptors had managed to claw back from down 14 to get within three, weathering a first-quarter siege from the Milwaukee Bucks and slowly working their way back in. A bench-heavy unit led by Leonard was tasked with keeping things within striking distance. First, he picked off Malcolm Brogdon for a steal and took it the distance for a layup. He hit a mid-range shot, then found Fred VanVleet for a 3 that gave the Raptors the lead. The group that was supposed to hold tight until more starters returned had swung the balance, against a lineup with Giannis Antetokounmpo, no less.
That set the stage for another Leonard moment. First, he drew Brook Lopez on a switch. A quick right-left-right dribble put Lopez on his heels, and Leonard stepped back for a clear 3. Lopez drew the assignment the next time down the floor, this time on the other side, and Leonard rejected a Norman Powell screen to keep that mismatch. Leonard took one hard hesitation dribble left and stepped back again, draining another 3 over the 7-footer.
The Bucks called a timeout. The Raptors led by four. They wouldn’t trail again.