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Kawhi's MVP-level performance propels Raptors into unfamiliar territory

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TORONTO – They don’t give MVP awards in the playoffs until you make the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard knows that. He won his Bill Russell Award as he led the San Antonio Spurs to an NBA title in 2014. It was a signature performance that helped announce him as a superstar at age 23.

But you couldn’t blame the crowd at Scotiabank Arena for raining down the ‘MVP’ chants midway through the fourth quarter of the Toronto Raptors 108-95 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, giving them a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven second-round series. Game 2 is scheduled for Monday night.

It was the Raptors second consecutive series-opening win over the 76ers, although it should be pointed out that last one came on May 1, 2001. In between have come 16 more playoff series, and Saturday night’s win mattered because it was the third time in 17 series openers the Raptors weren’t trailing 0-1 going into Game 2.

Kawhi Leonard knows none of this history, and if he did you know he absolutely does not care about your pathetic little history of hurts nursed and carried through the decades. He’s got championships to win.

But to do that you need to get out of the second round and Leonard seems intent on doing so with as little drama as possible, which is strange to watch or even contemplate for Raptors fans.

It’s fun though. When Leonard was getting the MVP chants he had just hit a corner three, made and followed up with a baseline jumper that put Toronto up 18 with just over six minutes to play. By the time Leonard checked out for good three minutes later, he had put in one of the most impressive playoff performances of any Raptor ever – right up there with Vince Carter’s 50-point game against the Sixers in 2001.

In 38 minutes (Carter needed 45 for his 50 spot) Leonard put up 45 points on 16-of-23 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds. He was 3-of-7 from three. He barely seemed to sweat. He wasn’t alone. Pascal Siakam chipped in with 29 points on 15 shots as he continues to prove his regular-season success will easily translate into the playoffs and then some.

Defensively the Raptors were on a string, holding the potent........

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