With the NBA Finals starting in a little over 24 hours, it is the perfect opportunity to speak of the playoffs that Kawhi Leonard has had. It was very easy to forget the talent that was Kawhi Leonard when he was in San Antonio. There was a ton of drama surrounding his request of a trade. The Spurs believed Kawhi could play with his injury last season, and he said he couldn’t.
In a society such as ours, we have short term memories. We only remember the here and now, and quickly forget what happened over a year ago. The other reason people probably shrugged off Kawhi was because he was in San Antonio, which has had years of success and has created a system, much like the New England Patriots over in the NFL. Tom Brady doesn’t nearly get the respect he deserves, because people believe his greatness comes from the ‘system.’ But I digress.
The NBA has become all about the three-point game, and Kawhi Leonard has brought some of that old-school mentality back that a lot of NBA fans love and miss. Sure, he can shoot a three pointer no problem, but he’s not afraid to pull up for a mid-range shot, either. He can drive the lane with the best of them, too. All of this makes Kawhi a huge threat on offense, and he’s already made a ton of shots late in games to prove he’s got the clutch gene.
Kawhi was a Hail Mary shot for the Toronto Raptors having one more run at the Finals. His supporting cast has been inconsistent throughout the playoffs. After going down 0–2 to the Milwakuee Bucks, many people thought the Raptors were done. Then, they won four straight games to close out the series and advance to the NBA Finals. The Bucks only lost a max of two games in a row during the regular season. Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors were able to double that number and eliminate them from the playoffs.
There is no question that Kawhi Leonard has carried the Toronto Raptors. He’s had help from teammates such as Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry, and most recently, Fred VanVleet. All these guys have given Kawhi a hand in winning a game or two throughout the playoffs, but a lot of times, they would disappear the following game. Kawhi has had no consistent help in the department of scoring, which makes this playoff run all the more impressive.
The Raptors defense has been top notch, though. Kawhi leads that charge, but the whole team should be commended. Nick Nurse came up with an amazing game plan after the first two losses to Milwaukee to help keep Giannis Antetokounmpo from completely dominating the paint. The defense could be all the difference once the Raptors tip off against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals on Thursday.
If the Raptors can use their physicality and gritty defense, they have a real shot at beating the Warriors. While the Warriors don’t show many flaws, the only time their flaws start to come out is when defenders get right in their face for the entire game. It will be exhausting, but it is what is necessary to bring down the Golden State dynasty.
Kawhi is averaging 31.2 points per game, which is on pace for a historic playoff run. This type of playoff run is only rivaled by Michael Jordan as far as a single player performance goes. Then you add Kawhi’s defensive capabilities, and that is what sets him apart from Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo as far as the best basketball player in the league right now.
That could all easily change with Kevin Durant going to a new team and flourishing even more. He is still considered by most to be the best out there, but he hasn’t shown to carry a team the way Kawhi has. Giannis was considered the best player until Nick Nurse had Kawhi defend The Greek Freak. That changed the entire outcome of the series, and made Giannis look human for the first time in a long time.
The outcome of the NBA Finals will not change what Kawhi Leonard has done in these playoffs. He will be the most sought-after free agent. The NBA offseason should be as much fun as the NBA Finals will be. Does making it and possibly winning the NBA Finals mean that Kawhi stays in Toronto? Or is his heart in California? Many questions to be answered.
Kevin Durant’s injury should play a major role in the Finals. The Warriors are making it seem game-to-game, but there is a thought that he could miss the entire Finals. That gives the Raptors a huge edge. If Durant doesn’t play, that gives Kawhi the freedom to possible defend Steph Curry in big moments down the stretch. If Durant does end up playing, then Steph will have far more freedom and space to launch the ball from beyond the three-point line.
Either way this plays out, this is great for the city of Toronto, who gets to see their team in their first NBA Finals. Who better to lead them than a guy like Kawhi Leonard? He already has the experience and a Finals MVP with San Antonio, so why couldn’t he be the one to take down the Warriors? We’ll all find out soon enough.