Kawhi Leonard
TORONTO, ON- APRIL 27 - Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) scored 45 points as the Toronto Raptors play the Philadelphia 76ers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. April 27, 2019. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

With a defeat of the Milwaukee Bucks in game six of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the Toronto Raptors will move on to the NBA Finals for the first time in the history of their franchise. The Raptors initially fell in the first two games to Milwaukee but turned the series around by winning the next four games. Kawhi Leonard will now have the opportunity for revenge against Golden State and for Zaza Pachulia injuring him in game two of the Western Conference Finals in 2017.

Kawhi Leonard Has Opportunity to Get Revenge Against Golden State

2017 Western Conference Finals Game 1

In the Sunday matinee at Oracle arena that kicked off the Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs right away found themselves giving the “all-star” filled Warriors a run for their money. The Spurs came out ready to play and were not intimidated by the stacked Warriors.

San Antonio jumped out to a 30-16 lead at the end of the first quarter and continued to dominate the Warriors up until the 7:55-minute mark of the third quarter when Kawhi Leonard took a jump shot from the corner and landed on Zaza Pachulia‘s foot. Although Pachulia claims it was unintentional, it appeared to be a dirty play (Pachulia is known as one of the dirtiest players in the NBA and has a history of similar incidents). Leonard coming down hard on Pachulia’s outstretched foot caused him to reinjure his sprained ankle, and he was out for the rest of the series.

Before Leonard went down, the Spurs had a comfortable 23 point lead, and Leonard had 24 points. Once Leonard limped off the floor that Sunday at Oracle Arena, the series was over. The defeated Spurs proceeded to get swept and that was a wrap for their season.

Leonard’s Challenges

Leonard would play in only nine games during the Spurs next season, and in the upcoming summer of 2018, he requested a trade. Leonard is traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors in a deal that included Toronto fan favorite DeMar DeRozan.

Now that Leonard will get another shot at the Warriors the big question is: Can Kawhi Leonard beat the Warriors? Let us look at some things that are not going in Leonard’s favor.

Injury

First off, Leonard appears to have an injury as he was seen numerous times limping against the Milwaukee Bucks. Although he has managed to keep playing and has continued to put up superstar numbers, there is no way of knowing how bad it is or if it is getting worse.

Addition by Subtraction: Kevin Durant

Next, even though Kevin Durant went down with a calf injury, the Warriors have been a force to be reckoned with as they have gone undefeated since game five in which they lost Durant. The initial thought was that the Warriors had no chance at winning without former MVP Durant. However, such an analysis ignores the fact that the Warriors have already won a championship without Durant and have gone 73-9 without him.

Moreover, the Warriors backcourt with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson has been lethal. Without Durant, the Warriors have been running the pick and roll with Draymond Green and Curry. As a result, teams have to pick their poison and choose whether they want a wide-open Curry to shoot the three ball or a wide-open Green to drive to the basket. When Curry is in the lineup but Durant is out the Warriors are 33-1.

A Chip On the Warriors Shoulder

Adding to Leonard’s current problems is that he no longer has the element of surprise on his side. In the Western Conference Finals in 2017, no one expected much from the Spurs. The Warriors were 8-0 when they entered game one. The Warriors had also just signed Kevin Durant the previous summer, and no one was giving any other team a chance against them.

Now, the Warriors no longer appear unbeatable as they have been pushed to the brink of elimination and have looked more vulnerable over the years. In the 2017 NBA playoffs, the Warriors went 16-1, winning their first championship with Kevin Durant. However, the following year, during the 2018 postseason the Warriors, despite winning the Larry O’Brien trophy, did not put on a display of pure domination as they did the previous year.

In the first round, they breezed by the Kawhi-less San Antonio Spurs in five games and then cruised through the New Orleans Pelicans in five games in the next series.

From Unbeatable To the Brink Of Elimination

The Warriors were then matched up against the Houston Rockets. The Rockets led by James Harden, the league MVP, and Chris Paul took the Warriors to seven games. The Rockets even had the opportunity to close the Warriors out in the series as they were on top three games to two, making it the first time the Warriors faced elimination since Game seven in 2016 when they lost to the Lebron Jamesled Cleveland Cavaliers.

Nonetheless, the Warriors would win games six and seven. Golden State advancing that series was less about their greatness but, more about the Rockets not being on the right side of the “eight ball.” The Rockets would lose Chris Paul for games six and seven because of a hamstring injury sustained at the end of game five. Then the Rockets would miss 27 three-pointers in game seven.

Although they won this series and would go on to win another world championship, the Warriors revealed they were vulnerable. Also, this postseason the Warriors went six games with the Los Angeles Clippers and Rockets. So how do the Warriors becoming more vulnerable hurt the Raptors? Because now the Warriors are not just annihilating teams. They are going longer than four games in most of their series. Previously they were not being given a run for their money, and because of this, they are not going to take the Raptors for granted.

Leonard’s Playoff Tear

Plus, the entire NBA has been watching Leonard put on a show this postseason and the Warriors probably will not expect anything less of his usual performances come next week. Now that the Warriors have seen Kawhi Leonard completely tear up the NBA playoffs they are going to be prepared and looking to shut him down as much as they possibly can. In the Warriors case, it will be easier to shut down a player they have been watching over the last two months.

Last Word

However, Leonard is up for the challenge of leading the Raptors to their first NBA championship. Leonard has been a wrecking train so far in these playoffs. He is averaging 8.8 RPG, 31.2 PPG, and has a 50.7 FG %. “The Klaw” has the most points so far in these playoffs by over 100 and is leading the NBA this postseason in field goals made, steals, minutes, and points. Leonard has shined in bright moments before, and the big stage is nothing new to him. In the 2014 NBA Finals that featured the Miami Heat versus the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard only 22 years old locked up Lebron James and won the finals MVP. If anyone can take down the Warriors this year, it will be Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors.

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