‘Board Man Gets Paid:’ How Kawhi Leonard’s Offensive Rebounding Could Tilt The NBA Finals

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The Toronto Raptors have been in control of the NBA Finals, with the notable exception of the 18-0 run to open the third quarter from the Warriors that effectively won them Game 2. Otherwise, the Raptors have been the better team, which won’t make them feel better about it being 1-1, but should give them confidence heading to Oakland, where they now must win a game at Oracle Arena.

Kawhi Leonard was relatively quiet in Game 1, as Pascal Siakam exploded for 32 points in a stunning performance in the win, but came alive in Game 2 with 34 points and 14 rebounds, nearly dragging the Raptors to a comeback win in the fourth quarter. His 34-point outburst gave him 12 games with 30 or more points this postseason, tying Kobe Bryant and LeBron James for the most in a single playoff run in the last decade.

While Leonard’s scoring has been impressive and, often, vital to Toronto’s success, it’s his work on the offensive glass that continues to come up in big situations. The All-NBA forward is averaging 2.2 offensive rebounds per game this postseason, which is tied for the 13th most in the playoffs and is fifth among players that played beyond the first round. Of non-centers, only Giannis Antetokounmpo has more, and Leonard has had a propensity for coming up with huge offensive rebounds in key moments throughout the Raptors playoff run.

There are, of course, the occasional putbacks and lucky boards, but Leonard does a tremendous job of reading a shot in the air and positioning himself to snag a loose board when the Raptors put up a perimeter jumper. Leonard regularly dives to the rim from outside the three-point line when a teammate launches a shot, taking advantage of his defender not being used to having to box out aggressively in those situations, and slips through to snag the board and either go back up or kick it out to an open shooter.

Take the Raptors first possession of Toronto’s Game 7 against the Sixers. Pascal Siakam backs down Tobias Harris and misses a short turnaround from the block, but watch on the far side of the floor.

Danny Green flares out to the three-point line, while Leonard creeps toward the wing. Ben Simmons is looking out for a potential pass from Siakam and loses contact with Leonard, who darts by him into the lane. Joel Embiid’s man, Marc Gasol, is way out by the perimeter, and the big man isn’t expecting any real competition for a board. Leonard, knowing from that angle the shot is likely to miss on the opposite side of the rim, slithers in for the putback layup, untouched by a Philly player.

Leonard would go on to be credited with four offensive rebounds in that win, as Toronto moved on to face Milwaukee. In that series, Leonard’s knack for pulling down offensive boards once again showed up in a big way, as a few Leonard rebounds late helped seal wins in Game 5 and Game 6. The one that sticks out in the minds of many was his rebound late in Game 5 off his own missed three-pointer, in which he drew a frustration foul from Giannis pushing him out of bounds.