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Kawhi Leonard a Raptor forever after leading franchise to 1st title

1 241 0
14.06.2019

OAKLAND – He arrived in Toronto full of mystery and over the course of his nine months hasn’t worried about dispelling any of it.

Will he stay? Will he go? Does he like it in Toronto?

No one knows.

But none of it matters. Not now.

Kawhi Leonard spoke loudest every time he took the floor, which was more often than anyone else in the war of attrition otherwise known as the NBA playoffs, a winner-take-all tournament he led in points, rebounds and – most significantly – minutes played.

In the end, load management was Leonard hoisting a nation’s weighty dreams on his broad back and never missing a step.

In doing so, he led the Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship that over their history looked at times so unlikely as sending humans to Mars without supplemental oxygen.

No matter what happens next, Leonard is a Raptor forever, and so much of the team’s past is now irrelevant.

Remember 16-66? Remember Andrea Bargnani?

Remember Kobe’s 81?

Footnotes now, all of them, thanks to Leonard and a team that followed his example: play hard; play steady. And even if you buckle, don’t waver.

So how perfect was it that when it was time to climb the top of the mountain, to plant the flag at first light, he had so much help?

One man, no matter how special can’t win an NBA title. It’s too hard. The Warriors know that as they saw their stars fall one-by-one.

So you had Fred VanVleet sprinting around after Steph Curry and somehow still having legs to score 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead triple with 3:44 to play?

Or Kyle Lowry taking command of the most important game of his career? Or Pascal Siakam rebounding after a rare poor outing in Game 5 – Raptors head coach Nick Nurse benched him down the stretch for poor defence?

It was his runner with 26.5 seconds left — beating all-NBA defender Draymond Green — that helped the Raptors survive a determined Warriors rally from down six with 1:55 to play and an open look from Curry from three that could have put Golden State back in front with seconds left.

There were many hands on Toronto’s 114-110 Game 6 win that gave them their first-ever NBA championship, in the game that finally put them over the top, but it was the Klaw who did the heaviest lifting.

His Game 6 line – 22 points, six rebounds three assists, and two steals – was ordinary for him, but his season in Toronto was anything but.

He helped the Raptors and their fans feel the weight of history give way to the weightlessness of pure ecstasy.

Without him, Toronto doesn’t get here. The streets aren’t filled. There aren’t millions gathered around televisions across the country and thousands in the streets.

What’s Leonard like?

Well he said he was a fun guy on Day 1, and he invited the Raptors, their fans and half the nation to a party that was otherwise unexpected and will last in the memories of those who were part of it for decades.

Fun guy. Fun times. The funnest.

He looked like he was having fun as the horn sounded and he walked around the floor........

© Sportsnet