The Toronto Raptors made an eyebrow-raising trade over the summer, one that sent beloved guard DeMar DeRozan, promising young big man Jakob Poeltl, and a pick to San Antonio for superstar forward Kawhi Leonard and sharpshooting wing Danny Green. Flipping, primarily, DeRozan for Leonard was a tough pill to swallow, but it sent a message that the Raptors were willing to part with a star on a long-term deal for a superstar on an expiring contract, believing that they could convince Leonard to stick around and turn Toronto into a consistent contender.
Despite the weirdness that was his spotty availability this year as the Raptors managed the quad injury that held him out for most of 2017-18, Leonard and Toronto were excellent during the regular season. But Leonard wasn’t acquired for the regular season — he was acquired to be the kind of destroyer of worlds that had the Raptors go from a punchline every postseason to a team that could win a championship.
Who knows if they can get there, but it is undeniable that Toronto traded for the Leonard who showed up in Game 2 of their opening round series against the Orlando Magic. After a stunning defeat in Game 1, Leonard (who, to his credit, went for 25 points and six rebounds in the loss) played like an MVP-caliber performer on Tuesday night. He was magnificent, scoring 37 points on a hyper-efficient 15-for-22 shooting during a 111-82 win, the largest margin of victory in the postseason in franchise history.
Leonard’s big scoring output put him in rarified air when it comes to single-game playoff performances in a Raptors uniform.
While Toronto benefitted from a gargantuan bounce back performance by Kyle Lowry (22 points, seven assists) and the latest game in which Pascal Siakam looks like a future star (19 points, 10 rebounds), Leonard was masterful. In addition to his scoring, Leonard picked up four rebounds, four assists, and a pair of steals.
It was the perfect Kawhi Leonard game. There wasn’t much pomp and circumstance to his performance, he just put on his hardhat, went to work, and made his opponent pay. Leonard is a special player, someone who is able to take over a game by meticulously breaking your will to live with a barrage of jumpers, drives, and suffocating defense.
He put forth a clinic in the third quarter, picking apart the Magic en route to 17 points in the frame.
Again, this sort of performance is why Toronto decided to part with perhaps the most popular player in franchise history, someone who made it clear he wanted to spend the rest of his career in the city, to get Leonard even though he could pack up and leave once July 1 rolls around. Leonard is a champion and an NBA Finals MVP who knows what it takes to win in the postseason, the kind of player who is capable of leading the Raptors to a place they’ve never been before. And who knows? If he plays the rest of the postseason like he did on Tuesday night, perhaps Toronto will be able to get there.