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Kawhi making case as greatest playoff performer in Canada since Gretzky

5 19 0

PHILADELPHIA – The Toronto Raptors have the stage to themselves. They are the only Canadian sports franchise alive in a post-season. It’s not that unusual. You can make the case that they’ve been the most successful Canadian sports franchise for the last several seasons. The Blue Jays have tumbled from their 2015-16 heights and will be a while to recover. Canada’s seven NHL franchises won exactly zero playoff rounds combined this spring.

Kick at the Raptors’ post-season stumbles all you want, but it’s been 26 years and counting since the Montreal Canadiens brought home the Stanley Cup, and Blue Jays fans celebrated a World Series title.

Could the Raptors join Toronto FC as a the only recent vintage Canadian franchise to hold a championship trophy?

They might. A win Thursday night in Philadelphia, which would put them up 2-1 and back in control of their second-round series, would be a big help. No one is suggesting the road to a title wouldn’t be the equivalent of trying to cross a frozen lake in late spring – perilous and with every possibility it could end badly.

But the reason the Raptors can dream is they have Kawhi Leonard, who is very quickly, very steadily and very efficiently making an argument as the greatest post-Gretzky era playoff performer to draw a pay cheque on Canadian soil.

The pending free agent may not be here for a long time, but it could be the best of times.

It’s an argument that is probably unwinnable – I have no interest in trying to parse the value of peak Erik Karlsson to the Ottawa Senators’ unlikely run to the conference finals two springs ago (yes, it seems like longer) to what Leonard is doing, or what Paul Molitor did in lifting the Toronto Blue Jays to their second World Series win in 1993 or Patrick Roy’s out-of-body effort in lifting the Canadiens to their improbable title, also in 1993.

But it’s worth bringing it up because it stands to reason that as the Raptors advance more Canadians will be drawn into the story of the NBA’s lone Canadian team shedding decades of ineptitude, dysfunction (going way back) and more recently years of playoff frustration to take a spot at the........

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