Before Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard was steady, but he didn’t have his “sublime” performance. As a result of injuries and the grind of a post-season, he was consistent, but didn’t quite look like himself. He had more of an old man game, relying on driving to the basket, drawing fouls and patiently using his footwork for the best shot. While it was an effective and purposeful Kawhi Leonard, it clearly didn’t seem like the same man who dunked on Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo in two consecutive series. However, with his teammates being able to help him by scoring their baskets in Game 3, Kawhi was able to do less on offense as he could just pass out of their double team, leading to an open shot for his teammates. That reduced offensive load was great, since in Game 4, we may have seen peak Kawhi Leonard.
The Warriors are a dominant 3rd quarter team. We all know the feeling of dread, when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson start heating up. The Warriors punish all and any lapses in the third quarter, striking with flurries of threes. In Game 4, their usual dominance was stifled by the performance of one man. The Raptors outscored the Warriors 37-21 in the 3rd quarter. 17 points came from Leonard, whose notable moment came at the start of the third quarter. Sometimes you can’t do anything about a superstar getting his buckets. The Raptors have often been on the receiving end of it, getting eliminated by Lebron James imprinting his will on the team. This time, the Raptors were the ones with the dominant superstar. Fred VanVleet described what Kawhi did in the best way anyone can.
What changed for the Raptors in the 3rd quarter?
Fred VanVleet: "Kawhi Leonard came out and hit two big F you shots to start the half. There's no defense for that, there's no schemes for that. That's two big boy shots."
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) June 8, 2019
Imagine telling someone that the Raptors would win two games in a row at the Oracle Arena. The legendary Roaracle, on par with the Raptors own home floor. The Raptors have still not lost an away game in the NBA finals, and Kawhi Leonard is the reason why. Leonard is so good for two main reasons: his versatility. Leonard started his career with the Spurs, learning how to play as part of a system, starting as a 3 and D player, and eventually g working his way into the upper echelon of superstars. In the Raptors offense, Leonard is often an initiator of action. Whether it be a pass or a Kawhi bucket, the ball runs through Kawhi Leonard.
Kawhi Leonard is a humble superstar, who plays for fun and wants to win, by whatever way necessary. In this offense Kawhi has been able to unleash his superstar potential. Leonard has gotten better as a playmaker initiating and running the offense, due to the gravity of his scoring. His ability to score opens up his teammates for open threes. If there’s two guys doubling Kawhi, then there’s obviously open shooters somewhere. Leonard makes the right read most of the time. Leonard has the versatility to be part of a system, but also take over as a superstar. He can play off-ball as well allowing Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol to set him up. Leonard has no problem cutting and running around to get an open three. Off-ball Leonard and his lack of ego allows the team to function to the highest capacity: a good system with a superstar failsafe.
Kawhi Leonard is a playoff monster. He is in his zone: empowered to make decisions outside of the system, but using it as a safety net for success. The Raptors could not have brought the Champions to the brink without Kawhi Leonard being a humble superstar. Can you imagine Lebron or Harden playing off ball? Kawhi Leonard is a unique superstar with a compelling storyline. Let’s get this at home in Game 5.