With the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy inside Scotiabank Arena for Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night, Kawhi Leonard’s fourth-quarter performance for the Toronto Raptors nearly resulted in the first title in franchise history.
Up 3-1 in the best-of-7 series against the Golden State Warriors, the Raptors found themselves down 95-93 with 5:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. That’s when Leonard decided to toss his team, the city of Toronto and all of Canada on his back.
The 2014 Finals MVP went on to hit his next four straight shots, two of which came from beyond the arc, to rack up 10 points in less than two minutes and give the Raptors a 103-97 edge with 3:28 remaining.
As Toronto’s offence dried up down the stretch, the Raptors found themselves down 106-105 with the game’s final possession and the potential to win an NBA championship.
WHAT A FINISH.
The final shot is off, and it's headed back to Oracle. pic.twitter.com/PDSoD0O1N4
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 11, 2019
As the final seconds of the game ticked away, Leonard had the ball in his hands before passing it to Fred VanVleet. Unable to create a clean look for himself, VanVleet sent it to Kyle Lowry in the corner.
With next to no time remaining on the clock, Lowry tossed up a shot that Draymond Green was just able to get a few fingertips on. And, with that, the Warriors hung on to push the series back to Oakland for Game 6 on Thursday.
When asked after the final buzzer during his media availability why he didn’t take the shot that could have won the championship, all Leonard could do was laugh.
“Why didn’t you take the last shot?”
Kawhi: two guys came up on me 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/5ZH1tCAJpK
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) June 11, 2019
“I mean, two guys came up on me...” he said with a giant smile on his face. “I don’t know if I could have got a shot off. Um, it’s hard, I mean, if you got two guys on top of you, you have to try to find the right play. We ended up getting a shot in the corner, but it just didn’t go off quick enough.”
Considering his hot play down the stretch, it was likely wise of Golden State to double team Leonard on that final possession and force someone else to take the big shot. You don’t have to be a basketball expert to know that the man they call ‘The Klaw’ has a knack for knocking down clutch buckets during this playoff run.
Deciding to not give Leonard the opportunity to do something like that again truly was a no-brainer by Golden State’s coaching staff and defenders.
Kawhi finished the game with a team-high 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. It was the 21st time in 23 playoff games this season that he’s scored at least 21 points.
With Toronto’s advantage now at 3-2 in the Finals, Leonard will have two more opportunities to propel the Raptors to victory while the Warriors hope to keep their dream of a three-peat alive.
And who knows, maybe he won’t have two Golden State defenders in his face if a similar situation arises later this week.
(Who am I kidding? You’d be a fool to ever let that happen, right?)
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